Four Electric Ladies ... Contents
Copyright Ben Goertzel 1996 -- All Rights Reserved
My mother gradually tired of my boundless despair. I was allowed to be upset; it was expected -- but there were limits. One had to pull oneself together. Or so she thought; so everyone thought. They didn't understand at all.
Anyhow, one night, after a month or so, she suggested I go out and do something. I shook my head no. Really, she said. It'd be good for you. She wasn't giving up. I saw she wanted to get rid of me. I filled a knapsack with a couple changes of clothes, my CD-walkman and a bunch of CD's. I decided to disappear.
Then, on the way out the door, an odd thought struck me. I went down to the basement, ruffled through our stuff, and found Diane's diaries. Earlier, when cleaning out the apartment, I hadn't been able to bring myself to look at them.
I put the diaries in my knapsack. I went upstairs, opened the door, and called "Goodbye, Laura." I left before she could come to kiss me goodbye. I didn't want her to see the knapsack. I wasn't going back there. I took the subway into the city and walked down to a little bar I liked called the Caligula. My head was feeling thick and heavy again; I wanted to lie down on the sidewalk and curl up in a ball. My muscles rebelled against the action of walking. But I pulled myself into the bar and ordered a drink. The barstool had a high back: I sank down into it like an animal into its hole. Then another drink. Then another. It hadn't occurred to me before to drown my sorrows in booze. I'm not the drinking type. The beer made the headache go away. I started feeling very light and woozy, as if I were going to pass out.
Then I heard the music. It was a band I'd heard once before. They had used to be called the Ecstatic Pathogens; then, just a couple months ago, the lead vocalist/bass player had left the band. They'd broken up, then gotten a new bass player, and a new name, something long I couldn't remember. I'd seen them before, in the same club, and had loved them. In particular, the lead guitarist was a brilliant, beautiful woman, and I'd gone out drinking with her a couple times. Wow! Late November of the previous year.
My mind reeled back eight months. I was there again, November 1985. Diane hadn't been along; she didn't like to go out at night much. She didn't like punk rock at all. It was a three- band lineup. The first band, Slaughter Circus, was totally miserable. Two bass players grinding out dull, bottom-heavy dirges; you couldn't hardly hear the voice and guitar. I'd seen them before; they were always pretty miserable, but this was a new low even. They defied constructive criticism. The crowd was moshing around like usual, most of them drunk out of their minds. They didn't seem to distinguish one band from the other. But they noticed when the next one came out.
After Slaughter Circus took away their instruments, a grungy- looking long-haired guys came out and set up his drums. Another guy, a clone of the first, set up some amps and guitars. Then, when they seemed to be finished, they walked off stage and disappeared. Time seemed to drag on a bit. A few of the soberer members of the crowd wondered what they were waiting for.
Then they saw what they were waiting for. A beautiful girl with shock-white hair, maybe nineteen or twenty, in a lacy black skirt and a tank top. The skirt looked like it was designed to be worn as lingerie; the tank top was skin-tight. She wore a guitar around her neck; a Fender Stratocaster. It looked big on her but she wore it with confidence. The kind Jimi Hendrix used to play.
She looked out at the crowd and everyone got quiet, waiting for her to say something. But she didn't say anything, just touched the fretboard with her fingers. From the first few notes I knew I was hearing something unusual. This wasn't grunge rock, this wasn't punk rock, it wasn't rock at all -- it was just music. Beautiful music, the kind you don't come to a hole-in-the-wall rock club to hear. I couldn't place all the influences -- something foreign; Chinese, Indian, Middle-Eastern maybe. The melodies kept coming in and out, disappearing every now and then into a rising buzz of feedback noise. Finally the bass and drums came in. I hadn't seen the other musicians come up on stage, but suddenly there they were, pounding along. Not brilliant but solid, anyway; they knew how to keep the beat. The drummer was a really tall guy, maybe 6'7'', with so much hair you couldn't see his face.
The bass player, when I'd seen the band before, had doubled on vocals. He had been a guy, fairly short, with a decent voice. I couldn't remember much about him. Now he was gone, replaced by a girl with long brown hair, dressed in jeans and flannel shirt. She wasn't nearly so flamboyant as the guitarist, but she was beautiful too, in a classical sort of way. She seemed really shy; she had no stage presence whatsoever.
Standing in the bar now, I waited for the new bass player, the girl, to start singing. But that wasn't what happened. When the beautiful guitar music faded, the singer started to shriek. The lyrics were hard to pick out, but I finally realized it was a joke song, a black-comedy spoof on the old Who song, "My Generation." The lyrics weren't much, they were just clever; but I think it was one of her best songs, musically speaking. The way she varied the chord progression was really quite uncanny. The band quieted down a bit and you could her the words:
People try to put us down
Just cause our brains are running down...
The things they say seem awful cold...
I'm gonna die before I get old
This is my degeneration --
Then the chorus came in:
Talkin' bout my degeneration...
Talkin' bout my degeneration...
The next song was a Dead Kennedys cover. She ripped the shit out of "Holiday in Cambodia" in a way I never would have thought possible. Then some more originals; some instrumental, some with lyrics. She really couldn't sing very well; she didn't articulate. When I had seen the band before, as the Ecstatic Pathogens, the bass player had been singing, and his voice had been far better, in the technical sense. But her voice, uneven and wandering as it was, had its own special qualities. It was full of teeming, struggling feelings -- it had a strange quality to it, which I can't quite describe. Like the cry of a wounded bird, I want to say, but it isn't quite right. More like the cry of a wounded person. A slightly less musical, more punk-rockish version of Janis Joplin's voice, I guess. A quite different tonality from Janis Joplin, but the same desperation, the same mix of sexuality, misery, self-loathing and aggression.
Everyone around me was moshing and drinking just like usual. I expected them to be staring at her, transfixed, but it seemed I was the only one. I wanted to grab them and shake them by the shoulders. "Don't you see it, fools? Don't you see it? This girl is Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin rolled into one! You're getting something special here. Stop banging into each other, put down your beers and pay attention!" But they didn't see it, of course. Not until the last song of the set; then they started to see it just a little. It was a Hendrix cover, of course. Not one of the standard ones. "Manic Depression":
is searching my soul
I know what I want but I just don't know...
how to go about GITTIN it
The bass player bounced through the song a bit too fast for my taste. I could see a certain coldness and confusion in her face. She was unable to communicate the ironic sensuality of Hendrix's bass line -- a sensual quality which, played correctly, both harmonizes and contrasts with his theme of baffled melancholy. She had too much manic, and not enough depression; and the manic wasn't quite the right kind. But the singer's voice was so sincere, so convincing. On the original songs, when you didn't know the words, her voice wasn't quite adequate. You couldn't understand what she was saying, basically. But on the cover songs, the familiar ones, her voice was picture perfect. Always on target. Giving you the meaning of the lyric, plus something else. Something from the inside. I still remember the way she screamed "soul" in Manic Depression that night -- full of so much love and pain, but also a tiny hint of irony. As if to say, "This is torturing me, yes, this is torturing me, but what the hell is my soul anyway?" The same hint of irony you always hear in Frank Sinatra. So sincere and serious -- but not quite. Putting yourself into it entirely, your whole heart and soul, giving all you have to give, but still having a little something in reserve....
Finally I saw why the bass was accelerating, why she was getting so manic, and losing the feel of the song. They were in fact shifting songs. It wasn't Manic Depression anymore, it was Wild Thing. She was ripping through the guitar solo -- she even remembered the little quote from "Strangers in the Night" that Hendrix put in there in the Monterey Pop verson. A quote of a quote. And then the feedback noise explosion. The crowd was going crazy, people were getting trampled. It was a very small room in the back of a tiny bar. People were getting smushed against the walls. Guys were standing on the speakers diving off onto the crowd. The room was so densely packed there was no risk at all of landing on the floor. Then I noticed she'd taken off her shirt. Hendrix had played the guitar with his teeth; she was playing with her nipples. But in a most peculiar way. Both nipples on the fretboard at once; one at the top, one at the bottom. It wasn't just feedback noise, it was actually a melody. An echo of the weird Oriental melodies she'd played at the start of the set. Every guy in the room must have had a hard-on by this point. I had wormed my way up to the stage during the first song; I was only a few feet away from her. I scrutinized her eyes as closely as I could. Her pupils were incredibly dilated. She was tripping. At the peak of an acid trip. The music was fading out. "Thanks," she said, speaking rather than screaming for the first time. "We're the Beautiful Delirious Death Puppies. David JonesWentworth on bass. Harry Steiner on drums. I'm Sophia Kurosh." The name turned over in my mind a half a dozen times. Sophia, Sophia.... Sophia, Sophia.... Sophia, Sophia.... Sophia Kurosh. Wow! The set was over. My God, I thought, I love this woman. I have to get to know her.
The encore was another Hendrix song. I could tell it was there standard encore. It was the same encore they'd played before, the first time I'd seen them. A mellow number, but obvious: Electric Ladyland. My mind reeled back again. On the Electric Ladyland album the song is short and dominated by vocals, but several longer versions of the song were captured on informal studio tapes. The melody is simple but enchanting, weaving all over the place in an exact simulacrum of an exotic dancer's body. Sophia latched into it with amazing precision. Here, more than anywhere else, she sounded exactly like Hendrix. This was the only song she didn't sing. In the old band, the bass player had sung it. Now Julie, the new bass player, sang it, in a pure high-school-chorus voice:
Have you ever been ...
to Electric Ladyland?
The magic carpet waits ...
for you, so don't be late
I'm gonna show you
I'm gonna run you
sounds of devotion
The electric woman waits
for you and me...
Suddenly Sophia, who had previously been so lascivious, was reticent and seductive. Her fingers danced along the fretboard with an unbelievably light touch. Her shirt was still unbuttoned; you could see her breasts as she swayed from side to side. The music rose through her body and made her look like an angel. She was the Electric Lady. We were all in Electric Ladyland. Julie's voice, so soft and sweet, was the exact opposite of Sophia's harsh, impassioned yowl. We were seeing the soft and private side of the flamboyant, brilliant love goddess. I, at least, was touched and entranced. Even the hard-core moshers had to stop for a while and begin to take notice of what was in front of them.
I was back to the first time I'd seen them. Far too soon, they had to hurry off the stage to make room for the headline act. I didn't want to see the headline act, I knew they'd be disappointing. But I hung around hoping Sophia would be in the crowd, and she was. I started talking to her and we hit it off pretty well. She was a pretty smart girl and I got the feeling she didn't get the chance to talk with intelligent people very often.
She offered to take me back to her place, but I refused. I knew she wanted to sleep with me, and I wasn't about to cheat on my wife, not even with a brilliant, sexy woman like her -- I was too in love with Diane. But even so, I had to see her again. We got together for drinks a couple times after that, in the next couple weeks. Then she was going out of town and she promised to call me when she got back. But she never did.....
When I got home that night, Diane was sleeping already. The usual when I returned from going out. Sometimes I woke her up for sex, but this time she seemed to be in a really deep sleep phase, so I thought the better of it. I lay down beside her, put my leg over her ass, and didn't move till morning. When I woke up my head was full of this really weird dream. I was up on stage with the band, the Ecstatic Pathogens, playing the keyboard (an instrument I hadn't played for years, since childhood piano lessons). She starting playing the guitar with her tits and then somehow she got rid of her pants and we were fucking each other, right up on stage. It was good, incredibly brilliant, and the music kept on getting louder and louder as we worked up toward orgasm. Then, just as I felt her starting to come, I woke up (inside the dream) and I found myself driving. I had a strange feeling as if I were taking a large breath and holding it, holding it, holding it; never letting go. But the driving never got anywhere. I always woke up from the dream before I found out where I was going.
Now I was seeing her again. Sophia. The Death Puppies. They were just getting started. I got a weird feeling inside -- almost a religious feeling, as if seeing her here was some kind of destiny. I was outside the order of time. I didn't analyze the feeling at all, just took it as a welcome shift. I found a chair in the back of the back room, where the bands played, and sank back into a dream.
A dream which starred, of course, Sophia. She was the goddess of a primitive religion. She was lying on her back on a stone pedestal while brown-skinned warriors danced around her in a circle. The circle closed in on her tighter and tighter, until they were right on top of her, touching her. In her underarms, navel and vagina was a sacred hallucinogen. They took turns kissing her, sucking her armpits and navel, and eating her out, until they were all tripping together. She was having one orgasm after another. Finally the circle opened and made room for me. It was my initation into the order of warriors. I sunk my tongue into her cunt and it was the best taste ever. I explored every tendril, every hidden fold and cranny. I danced little circles around her clit until it was burning unbearably, then stuck my tongue in and out of her hole in wild thrusting motions, making her hips move as though a penis were fucking her. I sucked on her lips, first one, then the other, then one, then the other, over and over and over again. I traced around the outside of her vagina with my lips in gradually narrowing outlines. I took her clit between my upper lip and my tongue and rolled it back and forth, then circled around it again and again and again. It had been waiting for me impatiently, jealous of the other parts of her cunt. I understood its secret language. I tickled her perineum until she almost fell off the pedestal. It was incredible. The hallucinogen made my tongue feel like some kind of surrealist fire. There was no universe outside her pussy: that's always the beauty of cunnilingus, but now, with the drug, it was ten times more so. Each little wrinkle -- and there were so many! -- unfolded into a fractal spacetime maze, a four- dimensional sculpture of heaving, groaning womanflesh. The taste itself subdivided into a hundred little tastes, each one coursing up to my olfactory bulb with its own laughter and caresses. I understood what I was supposed to understand; what was the purpose of the ritual. There is a Goddess. I was communicating with the Goddess. I was moving inside her mind. Finally Sophia gestured for me to come up on top of her and fuck her properly. She was passionate, ecstatic, long beyond being in control of herself. Her limbs flailed out in all directions. Her tongue leaped out at my chest. She was the embodiment of sexual love.
I woke up from my reverie in the third or fourth song, thanks to some drunk fool barging into me. I felt hideously ashamed: how could I be fantasizing about another woman so soon after my wife's death? But then, I thought, you're really not in your right state of mind.
I just sat there watching, watching, watching. Watching the band play, watching her dance around. She was wearing a loose blouse, halfway buttoned up, teasing the guys in the crowd. You could see her breasts when she bent over. Sitting there in the bar, my head full of lead, I realized for the first time the depth of my crush on Sophia. I hadn't allowed myself to experience it with full force, before. Now that Diane was gone all sorts of things were coming out. At that moment I missed Diane so much I started to cry right there in the bar. I need you to protect me, I thought distraughtly. To keep things normal, organized, sane.... Look at me: my mind's running all over the place. Sophia is crazy; you don't want to get involved with a crazy woman. Imagine all the trouble it will bring you. Hell, Diane was half-crazy.... On the other hand, maybe you need that; maybe you can only connect with half-crazy people. Maybe you're half- crazy yourself. The thoughts poured through my head so rapidly I could barely keep track of them. They all smelled awful, like some abstract kind of excrement.
I noticed something lying on the floor in front of me; I picked it up. It was a bundle of money, all wrapped up in rubber bands. Mostly twenties. Several thousand dollars, from the looks of it. No one seemed to notice me. My first impulse was to shove it down my pants and walk out of the club. But I just couldn't do it. Instead I gave it to the bartender, along with my phone number in case someone claimed it.
Turning the money in made me feel better, somehow. Or maybe it was the free drink the bartender gave me. I went up to Sophia after the show, and told her Diane was dead. She hugged me close and tight. She had to help clear off the stage. She said, "I'd offer to bring you back to my place but we're leaving tonight. Driving through the night. Chicago. We're going on the road."
I didn't want to leave her. Not because of the dream, but because she seemed human. No one else did right then. My mother had been human for a while but then she had gotten tired of me. "I'll come with you," I said. It wasn't a question. Sophia shrugged. She understood. For the first time since we'd met she could really empathize with me. My previous life, happy and married with a white-collar job, was out of her realm of experience. But despair, utter boundless despair -- this was something she could relate to.
I was all set to follow Sophia to the ends of the earth. But things weren't that simple. My lousy digestive system got in the way. I can't handle that much booze. I had to go vomit. I ran off to the bathroom. When I got back, they were gone. I found my knapsack in the back of the room and decided to go home.
My mother hadn't waited up. Here I was again. There was only one thing left to do. I sat down on the couch and took out Diane's diaries. Slowly, I read them, one after the other. It was painful but I felt I had to get it over with. As I said before, she mostly wrote in there when she was mad at me, or just generally depressed. The writing seemed to cheer her up, at least a little.
There was lots of name-calling and general dissatisfaction. "The bastard went and...." "He called me a bitch again today. I want to leave him. I don't know why I stay..." "He just ridicules me and laughs at me. He doesn't respect me at all. He wants me to listen to his stupid ideas all the time, but he never will listen to me. He just wants to talk to me and fuck me...."
The accounts of our arguments were predictably biased. The bad names she called me were never mentioned, nor were the plates she threw across the room, nor the tirades she went on when I did something she didn't like. Once, I remember, she yelled at me for two hours because I had started drinking tea. She called me a drug addict, a stupid fool, and so on. Finally I said, "Shut up, stop being a bitch. I can drink tea if I want to." What made it in the diary? "He called me a bitch again today. I'm not speaking to him. I'm not going to be treated like that anymore." I was surprised to find myself getting angry at her in spite of her absence. How could she write about me this way - - all the love I gave her? Our life was better than this! This was a mockery!
Reading on, I found some love in there too. Even a note on my sexual prowess! "Vic is so wonderful. He made love to me for two hours last night. Then in the morning when I woke up I wanted more and it was promptly delivered." And more compliments: "He's so good at figuring out my school work. I wish I could understand things as fast as him, My mind is so fucking slow...."
Some evidence that, deep down, she really valued our relationship: "Got a call from my high school friend Susan today. I hardly knew what to say to her. She's gotten so totally BORING. I hardly know any of my old friends any more. I'm so glad I still have Vic: he's the only constant in my life; we really do love each other...." Actually, only about forty percent of the passages had to do with me. There was a lot about school, her parents and so on. But that didn't interest me. I skimmed over each page lightly until I got to the word "Vic."
All in all, despite a few bright bits, it wasn't a pretty picture of our marriage. She had accentuated the negative. But, I reminded myself, she had never intended it to be a summary account of her life, or our relationship. She had written in there primarily to make herself feel better in moments of darkness. I grabbed a lighter from the kitchen, went out to the back yard and set the diaries on fire.
A few of the depressed passages, I mused to myself as I watched the books burn, had a genuine poetry to them. I imagined her publishing a heavily edited version in some small literary press. It would have been embarassing to me, because of the negative treatment of our relationship, but I would have been proud of her. But all that didn't matter now. She was ashes. They were ashes.
Ashes to ashes ...
dust to dust ...
dream to dream ...
I wrote my mom a note, told her I'd decided to go visit friends in Chicago. My head started to feel heavy again. I put the knapsack on and walked out the door again, heading toward the subway. But after a few minutes it occurred to me that I was being foolish: what were the chances of catching a bus or train to Chicago at this time of night? And wouldn't it be easier to fly? Why not just get a good night's sleep, then leave in a more organized way tomorrow? Maybe by then the idea of following Sophia around wouldn't seem to attractive.... I turned around and started walking home. But then, on a whim, I took a side street and headed for the highway instead. I would hitch-hike to Chicago.
As it turned out, the first ride I got was a twenty-year-old hippie heading toward the airport. He was smoking a joint while driving; he offered me a few puffs. I gladly obliged him. I decided to check the airport for flights to Chicago. There was one at 5:40, only two hours away. The ticket counters were closed till 5, so I called the main United office to see if there were seats. There were. I made a reservation, set my watch alarm for 5, and flopped down on a chair and fell asleep. I didn't really understand why I was going to Chicago, but I didn't give much thought to it. Somehow things seemed a little bit better than they had before. Still unbearably miserable of course, but not quite as severely so. There was a sense that something was happening; a shift was going on. Perhaps it was just the fact that I was in an airport. I've always loved flying.
I slept for about six hours. The flight was long gone when I awoke. There was no room on the day flights except at ridiculous prices. I was incredibly hung over and felt like a total fool. I took the train into the city and walked to Sophia's apartment, which I had visited once before, with a number of her friends. Just on the off chance she was still there. I knocked on the door about twenty times. Finally she answered. She looked as hung over as me. The van had broken down, she said. Harry and Julie were trying to fix it. They had a gig that night and weren't going to make it unless they left right away.
She was wearing a yellow see-through nightie. Gorgeous. Really gorgeous. Drop-dead-get-resurrected-and-drop-dead-again gorgeous. This was her, the supergenius musician sex goddess I'd seen up on stage -- her, here right now, making friendly faces at me in her negligee! I was flattered and thrilled to the core. But even so, I felt like a thousand pieces of shit. The moment was not right. Fortunately, we were in synch. "I need to sleep some more," she said, taking my hand in hers. "Come, lie down with me.... You disappeared last night."
"I went to the bathroom to throw up. You're the ones who disappeared."
I lay down on her unmade single bed with her. We drifted off to sleep together, holding each other close. In spite of the hangover I still had half an erection, and I pressed it up against her. As she faded away, she squeezed it and smiled.
Before long, much too soon, there was a knock on the door. "Sophia! Let's go!"
I had to shake her awake. But first, I couldn't help myself, I bent over to kiss her nipple. The amount of hair on it surprised me. Long, blonde, curly hairs. You couldn't see the hair when she bared her breasts on stage.
"Sophia! Wake up! They fixed the van!"
"Hmmmm.... Great.... Shit...." She sat up on the side of the bed. Once again I was struck by how incredibly cute she was. "Are you really coming with us?"
"It's 11. We play at midnight. That means we have 13 hours to make Chicago. We'll have to book like hell."
"You know we're not coming back here after that. You'll have to come back yourself. We're going around the whole country. A summer tour kind of thing. Julie set it up."
"Julie's been really great. Things have really improved since we became the Death Puppies. She can't sing like Raoul could ... God knows, neither can I. But she's got her head together better than I do, which is more than you can say for him."
"What happened to him? How come he left the band?"
"Basically he was fucked up on drugs all the time. He kept missing gigs."
"So how come you changed the name?"
"It was his name. He thought of it. I never liked it."
"'Beautiful Delirious Death Puppies' is your name?"
"Yeah. You like it?"
"You had a look in your face."
"Well," I grinned, "it's awfully hard to think of you as a puppy. Beautiful and delirious, yes. But a puppy, no. Does the phrase mean something to you?"
"Fuck no. All the band names that mean anything have been used up a long time ago. Do you have any idea how many bands there have been in the US in the last thirty years?"
"All right. Well, we're going around the country like I said." She shrugged, and winked at me nonchalantly. It was so obvious from her every gesture that she knew she was gorgeous. This egotism was irritating, but also irresistable. I stared at her lips and waited for the next word. "You can do what you want to."
"Fuck, I don't know. I'm really at loose ends."
All of a sudden she dropped her sexy pose. She just put her arms around me in a friendly way. "You'll get over it, babe," she smiled. "Anyone would be crushed. But you, you're strong inside."
"How could you know that? I don't feel strong at all. I feel like I'm dissolving."
She shrugged, and twisted up her mouth. "Hey, I don't know anything. I've been at loose ends all my life. I don't know a cure for it. Go ask my little sister."
"Your little sister?"
"Fuck her. Never mind. Come on, if you're coming; we have to get going."
Then Julie came to the door. "The van's fucked," she said. "We'll have to cancel Chicago. Get a real mechanic to look at it." She glared at me. "Go back to bed."
Sophia grinned. "You don't look too upset."
"I had a dream about you," I said. She laughed. And it was a dreamlike encounter that followed. I lay her down on the bed and proceeded to eat her out in exactly the manner of my fantasy, earlier, in the bar. She was easily orgasmic, much more so than Diane, and came again and again and again. Finally, she pushed my head away and crawled on top of me -- something Diane was always loathe to do. She fucked me every bit as wildly as I'd thought she would. It was all I could do to hold her on; to keep her from flying up into the air. I took those fabulous electric lady nipples in my teeth, one after the other, and chewed them in time to her thrusting. It was incredible! God! It seemed to go on forever. I came once and got limp but she stroked me with her fingers and I went in her again. After the second time she couldn't get me hard again, so I thought it was over, but she was voracious; she sat down on my face and started moving. I'd never eaten my own come before. Not bad at all. Moderately tasty. After eating her to orgasm I was ready for the final go. But this time I teased her. I sucked her nipples for twenty minutes before finally fucking her again. Those nipples -- those wonderful nipples, that always had the crowd going wild! They were mine, all mine now! Such a beautiful feeling. When I finally entered her, she laughed so loud tears came out of her eyes -- I'd never seen anything like it.
When we were done, she flopped down next to me. I started drifting off to sleep. She wandered off to the bathroom -- to wash or piss, I thought; but she seemed to be taking an awfully long time.
Meanwhile, lying there thinking of Sophia, I drifted off into a dream. It was a driving dream. An empty desert highway, grey dirt expanding in all directions, the road a straight line meeting the sky....
The accelerator squishes beneath my foot like a sponge; I push down further, further, further until it seems my foot has to have pushed through the car and down into the road itself. I just keep pushing further and further. Then we finally run out of gas. It's just me and my five-year-old self. He's sitting there next to me, looking as cute as all hell. He's humming an African tune.
We pull over by the side of the road and sit down, inventorying our possessions. A suitcase full of toys -- stuffed animals and Lincoln Logs and lego blocks, both the big kind and the little kind. A suitcase full of nice clothes, the kind I never wear: suit jackets, creased pants, button-down shirts and so on. A few bags full of junk. Some boxes of books: physics textbooks, art books, sheet music and great novels. Dr. Seuss. We empty our stuff out into a broken-down truck hull and wait and wait and wait.
I look at the license plate on our car and see it is 6G7 366. Three 6's in the number -- 666. It didn't used to be that way, did it? Or did it? I can't quite remember. A truck goes by and its licence plate is QRD 666. Another truck zooms by. Apparently everyone in the world is dead except those of us whose license plates have 666 on them. What does it mean?
A truck goes by and we manage to stop it with desperate gestures. The driver and his passengers look at us wearily and decide to drive away.
Finally, as we sit there with our suitcases, a green horse trots along the road pulling a carriage. The carriage is empty, but as it approaches closer, we see two people crouching in the back of it. An old African man, possibly a pygmy, and a lovely young girl with pure white hair, approximately fourteen or fifteen. A younger, softer version of Sophia. Her breasts are large with gigantic nipples. The carriage, it becomes clear, is actually the remains of the Beautiful Delirious Death Puppies' rusted, dessicated tour van. Sophia and the old man see us and cry and cry. "Such beautiful things!" she sobs, caressing the lego blocks and the suit jackets; also, caressing her breasts. "I wish we'd been able to take some of our stuff with us." She looks at my physics textbook longingly.
Despairing of ever getting a vehicle we decide to join them in their carriage. My younger self and the old man sit up on the horse; Sophia and I lie in the back of the carriage, rolling around on the suitcases. We close our eyes and embrace. She slips out of her dress and before long we are making love. Her movements are beautiful, smooth, exquisite, but the bumps in the road send us shaking and rolling around against the hard walls of the carriage. Before long we are asleep, and I am still moving inside her. My younger self says, "We're moving into a storm." The four of us look at each other: we all know what is happening. We all expected it from the start. A convoy of cars zips by, all with license plates containing 666. The cloud grows darker and the wind picks up. Hailstones pelt the horse; my younger self and the old man move back into the carriage; the horse grows bloody, the red blood and green hair combining in a bizarre collage of colors. I realize that we are all about to die. The Judgement Day has passed and the good have been removed from the earth. The only ones left are us, the evil ones, and we are about to meet our doom. The storm sweeps the carriage over, crushes it into a million bits. Our bodies are smeared, destroyed, shattered.
Before long we are floating, slowly simmering in a tremendous pit of boiling oil.
We float forever: it is a continuum of bodies. Just when the pain seems to get too great there is a momentary respite: the mind creates a space for itself and moves away. It convinces itself, falsely, that the pain is about to decrease. Then when it realizes this is false, the pain comes back again. It is this moment of delusion that makes it possible to go on.
I understand: my body is no longer mine. My body is everybody's. I have breasts and a cunt: my nipples are frying, tiny points of agony begging for air. The oil seeps up my wide urethra and send spears of torture through my womb, up my spine to my skull. My intestines are wiry, snaking knots of fire.
My skin is torn off, pieced together, then torn off again.
My eyes explode out from my skull, like a million vicious bee stings. They're pounded back in with sledgehammers and I can see again. The fire stretches my penis around my body; it reaches for an orgasm and with each pulse my body fills with endless throbbing pain.
And then the pain grows so great, so vicious -- my body is a giant, gaping wound, being scraped with a dull saw -- the pain grows so great that there is a pink space, a tiny bright cloud above. My mind is annulled by the pain: it has judged that existence is no longer worth it. Instead there is only this cloudy pink sprawling. What used to be "me" enters into it and diffuses throughout the atmosphere. The atmosphere is in orgasm; everything is love.
The pain is back again, even worse than before, so bad it burns holes in my memory.
Repeat a thousand times.
Then once something different. A hand reaches down and extracts me from the pit of boiling oil. I am standing on a platform looking down at all the suffering bodies. My body is exquisite, sexy, feminine. My breasts stand upright, my ass sticks out, my belly is round and my legs are slim.
The Devil walks up to me, horns protruding, long red tail carried off the ground. "How ya doin'?" he says.
"A hell of a lot better."
"Come on inside."
I follow him through a doorway into a little room, the walls lined with books, a TV and VCR in the corner. "I've chosen you to keep me company," he says. "I have to have someone."
He points to a hallway at the back of the room. "First door on the right," he says. "Have a cold shower."
I stay in the shower for years. All the torture is wiped off of me. But it stays in the back of my mind like a colony of snakes, like a continent of grasping hands. My skin is mine again, alive, sensate and free.
I emerge into the room and the Devil approaches me with a friendly smile. "Fuck the shit out of me," he says.
I want to deny him, to run out the door and leap into the oil pit, but I find my pride is not enough to motivate me to do that. I would do anything, I decide, to avoid going back there.
The Devil and I make love. When his cock gets tired I stick his tail inside me and fuck it. The tip, he says, is quite sensitive. Afterwards we read to each other from Faust, and watch the movie The Planet of the Apes. I sleep for the first time in an eternity. When I wake up he's there looking at me, ready for more fun.
I lived this way with him for years, in the dream. I even grew to like him a little. He wasn't such a bad guy after all. He knew about the wide pink space, and the cloud formations that grew there after the pain had gotten too bad. I asked him about Heaven, about what it was like there -- because, after all, he was supposed to be a fallen angel -- but he just laughed at me. "It doesn't exist anymore," he told me. "They couldn't keep it up; too expensive. They've given up on the idea. They just buy rockets and send the souls out to faraway galaxies. They don't give a shit."
He loved to read: he read every language ever invented, mostly poetry and literature but also some popular science. He had a weakness for particle physics, and was delighted that I knew some. Theology and philosophy amused him; he used to read Aquinas and Albertus Magnus just for laughs. He wiped his ass with the Bible and St. Augustine; expressly for this purpose, he made new copies every day.
Classical music was another fixation: Paganini, Bach, Penderecki. There was always music playing in the evenings. He would just shut his eyes and listen, and his mind was gone. Sometimes the classical was replaced with rock music: Hendrix, Malmsteen, Zappa ... weird, twisting guitar solos.
We lived an idyllic life, but then one morning, something was different. I put my hand on his shoulder and commisserated. "What is it, hon?"
He shrugged his red shoulders.
"I know all this isn't your fault. It's just the way it is. You're just ... a part of it. It's not your doing."
He shook his head. "It's not that. I got over that shit many years ago. Many centuries."
"Well what is it then?"
He gave me a long, wet, passionate kiss. "I'm going back there." Without saying anything more he ran out the door and plunged into the boiling oil. I tried to pick him out but I couldn't find him; it was just a huge mass of pulsing flesh. Arms and legs waving everywhere, heads struggling for air, flesh tearing and bursting into flame; screams and mayhem. I had to go inside, I couldn't stand it; I had to get myself away. Some red wine put me to sleep. But when I woke up I felt a little different. I touched my ass and realized that I had grown a small tail. My head felt funny: there were two horns poking out. I had become the Devil. My vagina was rigid, metallic, hungry. My clitoris glowed, literally glowed, like a firefly. I saw my reflection in the mirror on the wall. I had become her. I said my name to myself: "Sophia. Sophia. Sophia." I was an evil goddess, a superhuman bitch-witch. I thought with eagerness of the men I would pluck out of the oil pit, enticing them with a cold shower, forcing them to fuck and fuck and fuck and fuck. But force wouldn't be necessary; they would be like I had been, overcome with sensuality and sheer gratitude.
And I saw that someday I would be like him. I would have enough of greed and power. I would crave that pink space, that perfect cloudiness, that shot of pleasure beyond all pain. And I would plunge in again.
But that was a long way away. For now it was perfect, being the one soul in the universe. I was a demon God, demon Goddess. And my breasts were perfect, cold and perfect, shining like ice suns above the steam of the great human torture pot. My nipples were gleaming, mechanical tools, exploding beams of light. In the shine of the underside of my breasts I saw a license plate with 666 and I was driving, still driving, driving, while Sophia, wonderful Sophia, tickled my penis with her tender tongue. We had found a car to drive again; the horse was green and dead; my younger self was in the back seat with the old man playing some kind of guessing game. I realized my finger was between my wife's legs; her vagina was wiggling again. I was lying in bed somewhere in New York. I had a body there to go back to, if I pulled myself up. But there was no need for that; it was imperfect. It was a daydream, a mere distraction from the ultimate facts. My stomach tensed as I paced around the platform looking down at the suffering mass. They were repulsive in their anguish; none of them was worth fishing out just yet. There was a darkness in the whole universe, something horrible at the center -- even more elemental than the pink fluff I had earlier felt to be at the core. I decided to walk back into the room and quietly read for a while, until the mood passed.
I woke up from the crazy dream and Sophia still wasn't there in bed. What the hell? I thought to myself. Did they go to Chicago without me after all? Has she had her fill of me already?
I got up to look around for her. Then I found her. She was lying in the bathroom, with a needle hanging out of her left arm. The fucking junkie had shot herself dead. Goddamn musicians. I don't know what the technical cause of death was. But she was dead, as dead as Diane. I reached down to feel her and her pulse was gone. Her body was just a limp bag.
This time it was I who called the police, instead of them calling me.
I had a sudden urge to kill myself. To slice my head off, as quickly and painlessly as possible. Not that I felt I couldn't live without Sophia -- nothing like that. I loved her very intensely, but when you came right down to it, I hardly knew her at all. It was the dream, mostly. The dream had me convinced that I was evil.
I told myself that I'd had nothing to do with Sophia's death. Just as I'd had nothing to do with Diane's death. But in each case, I told myself in response, I could have averted the event by being a better human being. Had I not argued with Diane, she probably wouldn't have gone out to that stupid health food show. She probably just went to avoid spending the evening with me, at whom she was so pissed off. And, had I not fallen asleep so damn fast and sunk into such a long, weird dream, as it is my habit to do, I might have heard what was going on with Sophia and might have been able to save her. In the case of Sophia, the loss was not only to me but to the world: she was a world-class talent, a female Jimi Hendrix. And she never even made a recording.
Sophia was my fantasy woman, my dream girl, my sex goddess. She was a bad girl. Diane was a good girl. She was my soulmate, my other half, my wife. But they both wound up dead. It was the dark side of our volatile relationship that killed Diane. And it was my childish daydreaming, my reluctance to attend to the world, that killed Sophia. In my dream in the bar, Sophia was a Goddess, with hallucinogens in her cunt. I killed the Goddess. I killed the fucking Goddess. And became the devil-Goddess myself.
On some level, I of course realized that there were a million other interpretations of their deaths. Nothing has any single cause, I told myself. It's not my fault people drive drunk. It's not my fault Sophia used needle drugs. I would have tried to help her kick the habit. But the point is, I was bound up with these events. According to chaos, nothing really has any detectable cause. You can never know what would have happened if some seemingly insignificant circumstance had been just a little different. An event is always caused by the whole nexus of events that came before it -- by the whole past universe. But still, to make a human understanding -- a human universe -- we have to seek patterns and make wholes. We have to seek intuitively meaningful causations.
The crazy dream wouldn't get out of my head. Yes, it was complicated as anything, but one part of the message was strikingly clear: I am the evil one. I want to kill the women to become them. To kill the Goddess to become her. I don't know how this evil got in my unconscious -- my Theory of Everything doesn't explain that -- but there it is all right.
There is a darkness at the center, I decided. My dream was right. Maybe not at the center of the universe, but at the center of me at least.
I got a knife from the kitchen and poked it into my wrist. Somehow slitting my wrist seemed a lot more practical than beheading myself. God forbid, I thought to myself, I should ever love anyone again. A drop of blood came out. It didn't hurt. I was ready to make the slash.
Then, just as I was scraping the knife along my wrist, watching the little drops of blood ooze out, there was a noise at the door. The police were coming in. I put the knife down and wiped the blood away, embarrassed. "She's in the bathroom," I said.
They looked at her, concerned and disgusted. "OD," one of them said; they mumbled amongst each other. One of them yelled something out the door.
Paramedics rushed into the room. They hooked her up to some sort of apparatus. I looked on in bafflement. My mind was numb; it had fallen asleep, like a foot that you've been sitting on for three hours. After about ten minutes they came out to talk to me. A short man with thick glasses and greasy brown hair. Italian, maybe. "Looks like she'll be all right. We're going to bring her in just to make sure. Do you want to ride in the ambulance?"
All right? Not dead? It hadn't occurred to me.
Her pulse had been stopped. Her heart hadn't been beating. Or had that been an illusion? Had I falsely perceived her to have no pulse, out of sheer paranoia?
No. She had been dead, and the paramedics had brought her back. It was a miracle. A bona fide miracle.
The Goddess-killer had failed. The Goddess had won, for the moment at any rate.
The universe was in balance.
I rushed out to the ambulance.
In the hospital, she slept for twelve hours. I slept in a chair beside her. I woke up to her voice saying "Vic...."
"Sophia.... I thought you were dead."
She smiled. "I thought I was too.... God, Vic.... There was this white light. They were carrying me away. It was gorgeous...."
I just looked at her, bug-eyed.
"I didn't see Diane, though.... I didn't see anyone. Just the light...."
"You've got to stop taking those drugs, Sophia."
"I know. I always do...."
"You're much too brilliant a musician to destroy yourself that way."
"I know I have to stop. I always do stop. It's just...."
"You mean, this has happened before?"
"Never like this. With the white light. This is the worst time."
"But you've OD'd before?"
She laughed maliciously. "Welcome to the real world, Dr. Tymanski. Doesn't happen over at the university, eh?"
"Fuck, Sophia. It isn't funny. You're killing yourself with this shit."
"Don't forget, Vic. We're all dying anyway."
I thought of Diane, of course. "Very funny."
She shook her head. "No." Go to Next ChapterBen Goertzel (email@example.com)