Real People and Some Cartoons Too

Jody Azzouni

1.

I can’t stand it, Lisa yells at me. (Yells. Really.) He sits in the bedroom all day long, staring at that giant screen. Watching cartoons and imitating their expressions and sounds. Baby boomers, he says, and then he sounds like Porky Pig. Bugs Bunny. Or Popeye.

And then from the bedroom, I hear Porky Pig. Then Bugs Bunny. Then Popeye. I presume that’s who I’m hearing, anyway. Olive Oyl. I think I hear her from the bedroom too. Since Lisa also mentions that name. Generation X, Lisa tells me next. Ivor the Engine, Astro Boy, and Scooby-Doo, she says. And, in the bedroom I hear what I’m guessing is Ivor the Engine. Astro Boy. Scooby-Doo. (Scooby-Doo sounds like several people, by the way. In addition to a dog, I mean. So it must be some of the other characters in that series that Lisa didn’t mention.) Rubik the Amazing Cube comes next. Really. A magic cube that makes noises. I think that’s what I’m hearing now. Or something or other that makes noise. From that cartoon series.

Generation Y. Or millennial. That’s what Lisa says next. It’s the one generation with two names. And then noises from the bedroom after Lisa mentions Carmen Sandiego. Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries. ThunderCats. (That last one is especially noisy.)

Lisa is amazing, by the way. Because of the two different things she can do with her face and voice at the same time. That she can roll her eyes so sarcastically as she’s telling me this and yet make her voice sound entirely enthusiastic and sincere. For the guy in the bedroom to hear.

Jason is the guy in the bedroom. He’s the one making the noises, he’s the husband that Lisa is complaining about. Her husband. Lisa: born 1974. That makes her Generation X. Jason is nine years younger: born 1985. That makes him Generation Y.

It’s complicated, me and Lisa hear from the bedroom. The voice sounds normal now, it sounds like Jason’s normal voice. Which it is. It’s complicated to index the consumer tastes of someone demographically by cartoons, the normal voice in the bedroom tells us. Because the cartoon landscape has become so complex. Because of all the reruns, for example. Hanna-Barbera. Flintstones.

Oh man, Lisa says to the voice in the bedroom, while rolling her eyes at me. The Flintstones just never go away. And now Lisa’s doing the bedroom noises first. Fred Flintstone noises. Wilma noises. Barney too. It’s just The Honeymooners all over again, she yells at me. In the fucking Stone Age. I nod. Because I really don’t know any of this stuff.

Bugs Bunny and his friends and descendants, we hear from the bedroom. All mixed together. And so many cartoon series only lasted a year or two. So this makes the toggles really hard to find.

Toggle. That’s one of Jason’s favorite terms. It’s his name for the buttons you push, the switches you switch, those visual images, those noises, all that stuff you electronically throw at people. And that you throw at people in the world too. Like giant eye-grabbing 3D images dancing in what used to be big windows, on buildings that you could once upon a time see into. Even on old-style posters or photographs in the glossy magazines that still exist. Toggles. All the stuff that inclines a person causally, mechanically, like something obeying orders, like a zombie, to buy the products you’re trying to sell them. Toggles. The things that cue them, that cue them to buy all sorts of stuff. Cue is Jason’s second favorite word. Toggle is his first favorite word. The word toggle is a little old-fashioned, I think. Because computer geeks don’t use it any more. They use other words instead. But Jason’s not a computer geek, not entirely, anyway.

As you might expect, Lisa is still rolling her eyes at me. A lot. Because Jason is obsessed with all this. Toggles. Cues. He talks about it constantly, all the time. Lisa believes him, and thinks it’s all really important, all this stuff he’s obsessed with. How we influence people by echoing the noises, the colors, the shapes, the pacing of the cartoons they grew up watching. Apart from actual whole characters or bits, I mean. We don’t need the whole Road Runner in an advertisement to cue people, to toggle people. Some Road Runnerish zips in the right place will do just fine. Ones that tickle those parts of the brain that the meme Road Runner controls. Really. That’s all that’s needed.

Lisa takes all this really seriously. Really really seriously. Even the moral implications of it. Are we doing the right thing or the wrong thing? By controlling people this way to buy our products. Nevertheless, she’s just a little bored. Okay, she’s a lot bored.

Three years within a generation is a good chunk, Jason ruminates from the bedroom, it’s big enough to include a lot of people, but not so big that the effect is washed out because it lasted too long. Of course you need to take into account rerun phenomena, and now there’s a crisis in meme-manipulation circles because everyone has access to everything, a side effect of those damn web archives. This means people are potentially a lot more individualistic in how they grow up, or that the groups of kids who are watching the same things are too small and scattered to find. Without spending too much money to find them. Because they didn’t all come from the same high school in the same couple of years.

(Eccentric, Jason tells me. When he repeats this spiel to me at other times. That’s a bad term in meme-manipulation circles. Eccentric is bad, really bad, eccentric people are really really annoying. Because they don’t react like anyone else to the same noises. And now everyone’s getting eccentric.)

Tales From the Cryptkeeper. Ooooo, Lisa mock-mouths at me. While the voice in the bedroom intones: Affects a kid’s fantasy life in a permanent way, these cartoons. Very important to beer breweries, for example. There have been studies.

Jason holds forth from the bedroom, while Lisa makes cartoon noises at me. South Park, for example. This is what Jason says about South Park, that it’s almost useless. Because it was watched by so many people for so long. Unless you can covary the watching-it variable x with other character-trait variables y and z, because even if it was showing for such a long time, maybe a valuable demographic subgroup was the only one watching it. That’s what he says next. That we need groups that we have easy access to, and that we can toggle for profits. Otherwise, no. South Park, in its way, is as useless as The Beatles are for baby boomers. And other groups too. Really.

Ditto for Pokémon, Jason says from the bedroom. While Lisa starts to make a lot of noises that I take to be Pokémon noises.

It’s clear what Jason does, right? I don’t have to give his job description for you to understand what he does. And suppose I do, suppose I call him a meme god, a major meme god, which is what he’s called, which is what other people call him, on blogs for example, on Twitter, for example, anything that talks about him on the web, really? It won’t help you, it really won’t tell you much at all, it’ll just sound grand and impressive and mythical. He makes a ton of money, Jason. He’s one of those few people who works for several companies and they all let him. Google, for example. Microsoft. Oracle. Ebay. Amazon. Yahoo. Trulia. These are the famous ones. There are lots of other ones too, ones you haven’t heard of, but which are very powerful. And Jason works for all of them. Memesworld™? I’m sure you’ve heard of that.

Not all the time, I guess. He doesn’t work for all these companies all the time. It’s as his mood permits. But almost no one else does that or can do that. Work when they feel like it, work for this one that day then that one the next day. Whenever the mood strikes him. Maybe no one at all can do that, other than Jason I mean. Genius. That word comes up a lot. When his name shows up on Twitter. Or on Facebook. Or in all the blogs I mentioned. All over the place, really.

I’m unmoved by all of this, by the way, this cartoon fight that Lisa and Jason are having, this peculiar way that they manage to be husband and wife to one another. Making all these cartoon noises at each other. Because my parents brought me up weird. No television at all. Our computers were encapsulated too so that they could only go certain places on the web. Even the cell phones. And we were homeschooled with other kids with parents like mine. It was sort of like a cult, but benign. Books all over the damn place. So of course we were reading constantly. And talking about the shit that we were reading. Emma Bovary. Faust. Gaddis. Because there was nothing else entertaining to do. Sort of like the nineteenth century or before that. Sort of like all of our history before now, actually. And all our prehistory too, I imagine. Before we were freed from books and scrolls and papyrus and hieroglyphs. Freed from all of that by the web.

Poetry, we were even reading lots of poetry. Back when I was living at home with my cult. Which nobody would read if they had a nice movie to watch instead. That’s why, I guess, I’m so concerned with ethics. Because of this crazy upbringing I had. And that’s also why I’m so ethical. I’m pretty sure about this.

Now Lisa is showing me some attractive leg. Really really attractive leg. Want to sleep with me again? she says. Because at the moment you’re looking way more attractive than certain other people. Heard that, Jason shouts from the bedroom, and both of them are laughing. Not funny, Jason adds. Between laughs, her laughs and his laughs. Really not funny, he says too. She makes a face, and hiss-whispers to me loudly, pretending to be trying to be discreet, think about it. (Her tone is totally not serious, her face is totally not serious.) I’m supposed to be great in bed, she tells me. One rule, she adds. You can’t sound like a transformer toy if we do it. That’s the rule. And from the other room I hear transformer toy noises. Lisa is really good at imitating cartoon characters, but Jason is an insanely good imitator of everything.

Maybe you need a real kid, I suggest to Lisa. Lisa snorts. Because Lisa doesn’t want a real kid. It’ll want attention and affection as much as she does.

She really doesn’t want a kid. She’s too self-centered, too focused on her own projects. I know me, she tells me. At length. And it sounds right, all those good things going on in her life that a kid would simply interfere with.


2.

I’m sitting with Jason, and he’s talking to me about a new project for a new client. Think about it, he says to me with genuine self-loathing. We lie to you, that’s the slogan. And it’s a good thing we lie to you, he adds. Eh? I say. Placebo effect, Jason says, and it’s really well documented. How if you believe something false about a pharmaceutical it works better. Much much better than believing something true about it does. Because truth totally depresses the immune system. A product, any product, becomes forty percent better just because the client believes it’s the best one on the market. This is the crap I’m selling to salespeople, Jason says. Who are evil enough already.

And you should see the pie charts, Jason adds. Which are full of flickers, of course. Which have been doctored of course. By doctors. Some of them, anyway. Um, I say.

Now Jason is talking about a virtual reality product he’s packaging. Real Momentum, he says with real scorn. Yeah, bragging and offering the one thing they can’t give you, he adds. It’s a law of advertising: everyone either lies to the consumer or they’re driven out of business. If your product isn’t unique, if it isn’t a monopoly, I mean. Because then it doesn’t stand out in the noisy advertising landscape from its competitors. The aspirin effect, it’s called. Um, I say, because I’ve heard this already. It’s a rule, Jason goes on to say, monopolies can tell the truth, but they never want to. And no other company will survive if they do. These are only some of the laws we’ve generated from Big Data. And the news just keeps getting worse and worse. That’s what he tells me next.

It’s all impulses and toggles, Jason says next, what we really are, what drives humans to do what they do, buy what they buy. All this rational agent crap that the economists bought into for so long, used as a basis for all their false models. So that we, people like me I mean, exploit all that impulse and toggle stuff. All the time. Using flicker phenomena to keep the consumer’s attention, that old trick’s been in place for decades. Before anyone even knew why it worked or what they were doing. The consumer’s attention. All of us, I mean.

Flicker phenomena. I almost always lose Jason whenever he refers to flicker phenomena. Because then he always brings in the fireplace. And watching bushes for predator cats. Somehow this is relevant to the advertising templates he designs. It’s relevant to flicker phenomena, and to foveating too. Whatever the hell that is.

Jason is saying: Tune-bits that are in your head. From cartoons, for example. That trap you forever. So that certain sound riffs always turn your head, make you listen. That’s what we’re always looking for. People like me. And after he says this, Jason starts to cry. I’m making soothing noises at him, of course, I’m even petting the top of his head a little. As he sobs into his arms on the bartop. But, after all, we’re both men and we’re both sitting in a bar. And other people are noticing. I’m afraid they’re going to think we’re a gay couple having a spat, and it’s really important to me right now that people don’t think that we’re a gay couple having a spat. Which is annoying me. That there’s a part of me that finds this so important is annoying the hell out of me.

I’m Jason’s confessor. Really. And that’s what’s important, not that I understand what he’s talking about. Because he feels really really really guilty. About his job. About what he does to humans all the time. And that he gets paid so much money to do this. I don’t think Lisa really gets it. How guilty Jason feels all the time. Because she sometimes gets jealous of us, me and Jason. Hanging out in bars. Because she doesn’t see the importance of me doing this, how much I’m holding their marriage together. That at the moment it’s totally me who’s holding their marriage together. It’s how these things happen sometimes, the best man and all that.

So I’m trying to concentrate here, I really am. But it’s hard. The way you’re squirming in your seat, Jason says later, interrupting himself, you’d think you’d caught some weird sexual rash. And then he laughs because he thinks what he said is funny. Yeah, yeah, I say, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Lisa: born 1974. Jason: born 1985. She does fundraising. Professionally. For companies. And investments-finding. Seed money. For rich people. Like me. That’s how we met. Me and Lisa. And became good friends. And that’s how we met Jason. Who’s young and brilliant and totally out of his league.

And that brings us to now. Where I’m having a little trouble concentrating. Listening to Jason. Because I was fucking Lisa earlier this afternoon and I’m really kind of sore in certain places. Really really sore. I keep moving around in my seat. You okay? Jason asked earlier, before he made that joke, I mean. You seem a little jumpy, that’s what he told me.

Superficial people are going to think this is highly unethical, that I’m highly unethical. But I’m not. I pop Lisa’s lid periodically, fuck her frantic. It’s all this guilt and despair that makes it so hot for her, that keeps her and me going for hours. And it’s holding her marriage together. Because Jason can’t live without her. Literally. He was falling apart before he met her. Literally. Up all night doing his thing with one beer after another. Or gin, actually. Gin straight out of the bottle. Not shaving for days. Or bathing. Ever. That kind of genius. The kind you only want to text from a distance, the kind of genius you’re willing to blog about but that you don’t want to see in person. Not ever. Not even on Skype. That’s who he was before he met Lisa. Before she put him back together again. A genius, for sure. But a genius that his friends didn’t think was going to live all that long. I know, I’ve talked to them.

Luckily I’m a good loyal friend. I’ve only slept with Lisa ten-plus times. So she didn’t pop her lid with someone else, do something stupid like fuck a drug dealer. Or worse. Which she could have totally.

Okay, it’s been a few more times than that. Okay, it’s been a lot more times than that. She’s forty-one. And she’s still extremely good looking. That’s the tragedy in all this. That it’s real easy for me to help her this way. Pop her lid, help her scream out her anger, anxieties, moan a little. Really. Okay. A lot. And some drool too. Occasionally. Okay, just once.

Toggle me again, Lisa screams at one point. Really. And she’s not being ironic, I know she’s not. I mention the phrase to her later. That she said what she said. Really? she says. I said that? You’re joking, right? No, I say, I’m not. (And I’m not.) I’m not lying, I add. (And I’m not.) So there’s fresh guilt now. A whole lot of it. Tears. Hysterics. Crying. I’m such a horrible person, I’m such a horrible whore, she’s yelling into my arms at one point. It’s okay, I’m saying soothingly, you’re not a terrible person. You’re really not. (And she’s not.) And then we fuck. Again.

I’m channelling Jason too. She’s not the only one channelling Jason. Self-mastery matters a lot, I’m explaining to her. After a fuckfest that we’ve just had. More mysterious black and blues she’s going to have to explain away to Jason. It happens. I bump into things, she tells him one time, and I don’t notice it when I do it. Maybe things don’t like me so much. (Giggle, giggle.) Maybe I should be a little more careful around them. (Giggle, giggle.)

It’s a question of who the boss is. Us. Or them. That’s what I tell her. After the bit about the importance of self-mastery. Them? she finally asks. Our urges, I say, our tickles. Our hormones. All the things we have to control. What’s left over? she asks, and she sounds really really sad. What’s left over to be the master, I mean? Good question, I’m thinking. The soul? Whatever that is?

Yeah, she’s besides herself for me. Because of the anxiety. Because it’s forbidden. Because we do it all the time in their bed while he’s out shopping for parts. Because if we made it legitimate, me and her, if we got married or settled down, all the feelings between us would be dead in less than a year. Because she once said to me, about Jason, he’s really nice in bed, that he’s sort of soft and cuddly. Can you not give me details about this? That’s what I snapped back at her. Because I really couldn’t take hearing that stuff. (The way that I was reacting, could it have been guilt? I don’t think so, because I’m sure I’m doing the right thing here.)

Lisa bores me. By the way. Almost as much as Jason does. Not the sex of course. It’s really hard to get bored by sex. At my age, anyway. But the rest of it is definitely boring. When she talks, especially. That’s what happens when you’re doing good deeds. You get bored. Really bored.

I guess this is what it’s about. A certain number of women, in their early forties or fifties, I guess this happens to them. And then they ruin their lives and marriages. And they ruin all this other stuff too. But not Lisa. Because I’m saving their marriage, because I’m their best man.


3.

Jason’s gone to the bathroom, and I’m bored I guess. Because I’m listening to nearby conversations. At the bar. Which I pretty much never do. First I overhear: I went online to Africa. It was great traveling there. It kind of cracks me up to hear this, and I laugh aloud. Then I hear something that’s definitely more disturbing. Hi, I’m Bill, someone is saying to someone else. Born in Kentucky. Grew up in Ohio. Been in the military. Still own the guns. Yeah, it’s good to meet you too, the other guy is saying, I’m a plumber. It’s sort of in the family, in the genes. Plumbing. Right, Billguy says.

I’m in security, Billguy says next. Hacking? the plumbing guy asks. No, home security, the Billguy says back. I’m in security management, as it’s called. I figure out how to break into homes, find their security weaknesses, so that the customer can correct them. I’ve got a law degree too, Billguy adds. In case I do something people think they can sue me for.

I’m listening to this conversation more than I usually listen to conversations I overhear. A lot more. Because something about the voice of Billguy is really putting me off, really unnerving me. What cartoon character villain does he sound like? That’s what I’m wondering. And then I laugh again. Because I didn’t watch cartoons as a child. Or anything like that. That’s Jason-talk. That I’m channeling.

Now the Billguy is saying: All the electronic mechanisms we use to safeguard our homes and apartments are totally hackable. In principle, anyway. The ID identifiers, the retinal braking locks, everything. In principle, anyway. Depending on the age of software, and its bug structure. And sometimes the virus safeguards. Although the hackers are always winning that particular arms race.

Something about the way the Billguy is talking, or what he’s talking about, is making me nauseous, just a little, I mean. And where’s Jason? That’s what I’m wondering now. While the Billguy has skeetered into something else, a new topic. Stockholm Syndrome or something. He’s saying: I’ve been studying up on it. The victim reaches a point where they’re willing to do anything for you, they want to have sex with you (for example), they even crave sex with you. Because of the anxiety and fear, because you’re in control, because that way they’ll lessen the anxiety and fear they keep feeling. Because, evolutionarily, the people who mutated to be like that survived. You know, because they were slaves or war prisoners or whatever. For life. Because when you look at history closely, most of it is really really ugly, it’s the endless story of some people taking advantage of some other people in any way they can. Constantly torturing them in all the ways they find fun.

Man oh man, the plumbing guy says back, what you’re telling me sounds borderline sick. I’m really not trying to be insulting here, he adds, or even judgmental, I’m just telling you how it sounds. Man oh man, the plumbing guy adds, because the Billguy isn’t saying anything back, that’s really hard cheese. What you said. And then the two of them are off and running. Cheerfully talking about where the phrase hard cheese originally came from.


4.

Jason still hasn’t come back. And some other guy has started a conversation with me. Without my permission, I mean. He’s talking to me as if we’ve been in the middle of a conversation for hours.

The romantic frenzy of love, that’s what he says. Pretty much out of nowhere. What’s the point, the evolutionary point? he asks. Dunno, I say, helps with pair-bonding? (Pair-bonding, I think I saw that language in an anthropology textbook. I was taking anthropology courses in college because mostly girls were in those courses.) Nah, he says, people who are frenzy in love do stupid things. Easier to get pregnant because they’re frenzied and so they’re messing up their pregnancy-avoidance safeguards. Even if they don’t want a pregnancy, even if that will ruin their mutual happiness for the rest of their lives. Uh huh, I say.

Constant arms race, he says, between you and your enemy, evolution. The guy who doesn’t care whether you’re happy even a little bit, who just wants you making children. You practice rhythm methods to avoid pregnancy and evolution counters with penile leakage. Hey, the guy sitting on his other side says, slamming his fist down on the bartop, your conversation here is kind of turning my stomach. Do you mind? (He hits the bartop hard. Because down a little from him there’s this dancing detached hand on the bartop, it’s dancing on its fingers, and it falls over. Momentarily.)

The guy who’s talking to me turns around and stares at the guy, who stares at him back. This goes on for a couple of minutes, them staring at one another. Then the guy who hit the bartop with his fist makes a dismissive facial gesture and gets up, saying, I’m outta here. The guy who’s talking to me keeps staring at him until he walks out of the bar, then he turns back to me, smiles, and says: That was fun. Uh huh, I say, looking closely at my watch. Jason still hasn’t come back or I’d be following the other guy out the door.

And then he starts right back into it. Even if you don’t want children, he says, even if you really don’t want children, nevertheless your personality, your behavior, your body language, even your senses, are shot through with strategies and maneuvers that (against your will!!) only make sense against a backdrop of evolutionary success: reproduction.

Man oh man, I say, trying to have a conversation with this crazy guy, this is kind of horrible. Because you’re talking about yourself too. How do you live with yourself? I’m not talking about myself, he responds with incredible cheeriness. I’ve been altered. Eh? I say.

And then he tells me about his friend’s dog. Cotton is the dog’s name. Where he got the idea from. That young Cotton was being tortured by his sex drives. Until she altered him. He’s so much happier now, my friend told me, and I could see that too, that the dog was beaming. And now so am I, he says. Hey, he says, interrupting himself, you’ve turned green. I mean like really green. I’ve read about people turning green, like in an airplane when they’re nauseous, but I’ve never seen it. Sorry to go on this way about this, but it’s kind of cool to watch. Especially because we’re not in an airplane. We’ve got to change the subject, I finally get out. Now, I mean.

I’m serious. Because the nausea in me has just exploded. Suddenly. And it’s paralyzed me too. I can’t move.

But he doesn’t. Change the subject. He says instead: You ruin your lives. And then you live on. Diminished. Evolution doesn’t care a bit about that. It got what it wanted.

Two days before your date with a really hot girl, this is Castrated Guy still talking to me, you happen to be sitting around with nothing much to do. Oh I know, you say (a sudden inspiration coming into your guy-brain), I’ll masturbate and think about this really hot girl as I’m doing it. Who I’ll be seeing in two days. Why two days? Why two? (And I’m thinking this, even though I’m nauseous, what a weird thing to focus on, the number two.) Because you’re washing old sperm out of your system and two days is perfect for enough fresh sperm to build up. Masturbating two days before your date with the hot girl maximizes the possibility of pregnancy. Even though you don’t want to marry her and she doesn’t want to marry you. Even though you really don’t belong together at all. Even though after you have a kid the two of you will torture each other and make your lives together miserable because apart from the hotness factor that’s drawing the two of you together you have nothing in common. Cool right? Evolution doesn’t care about any of that, how happy you guys might be. What’s that to evolution? It just wants offspring. (Right, I say, my head really close to the bartop, my stomach totally in knots.) And he goes on to tell me a whole bunch of results that are similar for women: like they’re much more likely to get pregnant cheating on their husbands than having sex with their husbands. Without realizing it. Because that maximizes the survival of their genes. In children with different men as the fathers. Even if it fucks up their whole lives, evolution doesn’t care. (Yeah, I say, between gagging reflexes.)

Castrated Guy is saying to me: The question always is: who’s the boss here? You or it? I asked you to change the subject, I’m saying, I’m going to be sick, really sick, embarrassingly sick. Yep, he says cheerily, I know just what you mean. This too. Who’s the boss. You or a bunch of nausea?

I’m moaning aloud because he just won’t stop talking and I’m too nauseous to even push myself away from the bar, away from him. He’s saying, you don’t get it although I see that you really do. I’m not telling you how my sex drives work, what I’d do and to who, what I’d be if I let those drives do what they wanted with me. I couldn’t allow that to happen, I really couldn’t. That’s what he’s saying. And at this point, I’m throwing up, I really am. And I’m saying (to cover up what’s really been going on from the bartender and the other patrons): There’s something really wrong with this beer. It’s made me sick.

And then Castrated Guy says this, out of the blue. Meanwhile I’m throwing up, I really am, and nevertheless I know this remark is coming out of nowhere, that it has no connection to anything he said earlier. People who lie to themselves, that’s what he says, they can do the most incredibly vicious things. Have you noticed this? (I don’t respond. I’m too busy throwing up.)

He just keeps talking: You often see the question, what’s the most evil kind of personality? On certain blogs, I mean. And most people think sociopath. People are just so down on sociopaths. For some reason. But not me. The people who lie to themselves. They’re the worst. Clearly they’re the worst. (Oh please shut up, I moan. But in my head. Because I just can’t speak right now.)


5.

So this is why Jason never came back. Because Lisa called him. An emergency. So he just ran out, forgot about me. So she could tell him what she’s saying to me now. In front of Jason. Who’s dying, I can see it, just dying. I’m pregnant, that’s what she’s saying. And I can’t have an abortion. You’re Catholic all of a sudden? That’s what I ask. I hadn’t heard, I add. No, it’s medical, she says, it’s dangerous for me.

So we have to rethink what’s going on here, that’s what she says next. Between us three. End relationships that have to be ended. Change relationships that have to be changed. Because there’s a child coming, a new person in the picture. Who’s innocent. So we have to clean up this mess before she arrives. We have about nine months. A little less.

Medical condition, some autoimmune thing she has. Why an abortion would be dangerous, dangerous enough to avoid. Even if she wanted one, which she probably doesn’t. Oddly. Autoimmune thing she has. Where her body attacks her body. The kind of thing so many of us have nowadays.

Jason’s killed. I can see that. He’s just killed, he’s finished. He’ll never recover. Because some people just don’t when something like this happens to them, and he’s one of them, one of those people. I know this. And it’s all Lisa’s fault. Because she’s gone and fucked everything up. And I know that even if I’m wrong about this, about it being all Lisa’s fault, it’s something I’ll keep thinking. For the rest of our lives. Even if we get married. Me and Lisa, I mean. And she’s going to think the same thing about me. Nearly enough, I mean.

Not every mess we make can be cleaned up. That’s what I’m thinking. About what Lisa said.


Jody Azzouni was born in Brooklyn Heights, and started writing fiction when he was twelve. He’s never really stopped. His short fiction has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Wisconsin Review, Chariton Review, and in numerous other places. He occasionally shops around his novels; but he’d rather write than hustle. He also publishes poetry and philosophy, and he teaches philosophy at Tufts University.