An Artist Goes to Hell – Excerpt the Final

11 Jan

Pensivemo woke up the next morning on a foam pad he’d laid out in a corner of the store away from the entrance. Dr. Sintek sat over him again, having made a habit of rousing him from various states of snoozing, with a look on his face as though he’d said something or done something and was just waiting for a response. Pensivemo chomped the air a few times and said, ‘I need to get out of these clothes.’

‘I’m sure we can do that sooner than we originally thought,’ Sintek said.

‘Oh yeah?’ Pensivemo sat up.

‘Come with me. I have something I think you’re going to appreciate very much.’

Pensivemo worked his way off the ground and followed Sintek down the isle. ‘Is it gonna get me out of here and back home?’

‘It may well, but you need to review the terms, which shouldn’t take long. Hey, who takes care of ya, baby?’

‘Let’s not celebrate yet,’ Pensivemo said. ‘Tell me what’s up.’

‘Right well, here, first.’ They turned down the isle where Pensivemo had first met the rabbis the day before.

The rabbis were sitting around in their chairs, some antsy looking, fluttering with nervous energy, some smiley and good-natured as ever. But they weren’t the only ones. There was also a group of men who didn’t look like rabbis at all. There were four of them in business suits, all of them middle-aged. They looked at Pensivemo with earnestness and confidence as he entered.

‘This must be the man I’ve heard about,’ one of the men in this new group said. He smiled above a chiseled jaw and extended his hand. Pensivemo shook it. ‘I’m David Wilf. We’re here to make you an offer.’

‘Yeah? What’s that?’ Pensivemo said, bored.

‘I’ll be very frank, because I know you’ve been given a terrible run-around lately, you know, with having to go to the reception desk and then back to the room and so on and so forth,’ David said.

‘It’s been a little more troubling than simply that,’ Pensivemo said.

Sintek leaned in toward David’s ear and said, ‘He had a little run in with the Lower-Level A firm so it’s been kind of a rough day for him yesterday.’

‘Oh golly,’ David said, frowning. ‘I had no idea. Pretty bad, was it?’

Pensivemo shrugged. ‘It didn’t last long … but believing I’d have to endure their company for the rest of my life was a bit disconcerting, I’ll admit.’

‘Jeez man!’ David said. ‘I’m sorry we didn’t eh … work something out sooner.’

‘Who are you people?’ Pensivemo asked.

Sintek and David laughed strangely with one another. Sintek told him, ‘He’s become a bit of a business man these past few days, hasn’t he?’

‘Of course!’ David said. ‘I’m a case worker with Meta-Corpse.’

‘Meta-Corpse?’ Pensivemo said, rubbing his sore head.

‘Correct.’

‘You’re partnered with the Lower-Level A firm, aren’t you?’

‘No, no, no,’ David said. ‘We’re not partners, though we are affiliates.’

‘What the hell do you have in mind for me now?’

‘Well, we wanted to offer you some level of immunity that might be more to your liking than what you’d have here.’

The rabbis were still pensive and troubled-looking.

‘Like what?’ Pensivemo asked.

‘We’d like to offer you full immunity and protection from the punitive interpretations of some outside firms into the punitive district in which you live. Basically, we’d keep you safe at your house but you wouldn’t really be able to leave your district because if you were to leave, we wouldn’t be under any obligation, nor would we be equipped, to protect you.’

‘What is a “district” in your language?’

‘It’s basically an area of about two blocks and we just happen to oversee the one you live in.’

‘Wonderful.’

‘But you’d receive a higher cut in royalties for your various, eh, creative productions if you sign our immunity contract. Much higher than any of your publishers or grants have given you. They’ll be obligated under our contract.’

‘What about advances?’

‘Oh you’d still get those. You’re still affiliated with all your original business, we just oversee it now so long as you stay in this district.’

‘What about him,’ Pensivemo asked.

‘What about whom?’

Pensivemo pointed at the ceiling.

David looked confused for a moment. Sintek just raised his brow and bobbed his head from side to side.

‘Oh,’ David said, smiling. He gave Pensivemo a toss of his hand. ‘I wouldn’t worry about him. He’s just eh … Well, we don’t talk much about him.’

‘He won’t mind if I go home?’

‘I can’t imagine why he’d mind as long as you signed the contract.’

Pensivemo sighed. ‘Is there any way to get the charges against me expunged?’

‘Well … you can go far, far away or sit very, very still,’ David said.

‘In other words, there’s no way?’

David shrugged.

‘You guys brought me in, did you not?’ Pensivemo said. ‘Weren’t you the first ones to bring charges against me?’ He turned to Sintek for confirmation.

Sintek’s O-ed mouth dropped rapidly a bunch of empty times as some unsatisfactory explanation waited on his tongue.

‘There’ve been a lot of changes,’ David said.

‘Tons of changes,’ Sintek said, red in the cheeks and nose-tip.

‘There have been major shifts in staff and upper management.’

‘Major,’ Sintek echoed.

‘The charges that were brought against you initially have been eh—’

‘Expunged?’ Pensivemo said, dryly.

‘Not expunged so much as superseded, you see.’

‘I don’t see.’

‘The charges brought against you were brought by a division within the policy of Meta-Corpse called Meta-Corpse 7—an older version. We’re operating under a new program called Meta-Corpse 8. We’re trying to get them to update their policy but they’re lagging a little behind. They keep trying to give their policy a new polish and a new appeal but it’s all sort of paltry in comparison with what we’ve been up to.’

‘I don’t think I’m interested,’ Pensivemo said.

‘I should mention, in that case,’ David said, ‘that we’re obligated to give information within our firm to other divisions within the firm, no matter how divided.’

‘So … you’ll turn me in if I don’t sign the contract?’ Pensivemo said.

‘No, no, no, we won’t turn you in but we are required to give a progress report on potential candidates for our test-period community program, at which point they might do with those results what they will.’

‘So you’re working for them in other words? For an outdated version of the real thing?’

‘It’s not quite like that.’

‘This is no kind of contract,’ Pensivemo said, shaking his head, rubbing his pink eyes.

‘Pens,’ Sintek said, both hands in the air, wrists bent, ‘I really think you should reconsider. If you sign this now, we might be able to change some of the circumstances around you later but if you take off and go running around doing your own thing, I can’t promise you won’t get picked up by some bad people again.’

Pensivemo shook his head, straightened out and said, ‘Any of you smoke?’

A few of them nodded. David nodded. ‘Yes!’

Pensivemo sighed, relieved. ‘I’ve been looking for a cigarette for … I don’t know. Feels like months. Can you spare one, brother?’

David squinted and offered a disclaimatory hiss through his teeth. ‘I actually am not … able to eh … give you one.’

Pensivemo frowned. ‘Why?’

‘We’re just not allowed to give anyone what might constitute as a gift … in light of negotiating a contract.’

There were several papers to sign but Pensivemo did so without reading most of them. He got to the last one, sweating, and signed it in his barely legible hand, exhaled heavily and held out an open palm on which David placed a cigarette.

‘You got a light?’ Pensivemo asked.

***

Pensivemo and Sintek went walking down that industrial street full of offices and old warehouses. They sky behind them where the Meta-Corp building stood still had great black clouds hanging over it while the rest of the sky was bright blue, as though some dark fabric had been torn in half above them—leaving behind little black traces, whirls and plumes.

‘I think this is gonna be a very productive period for you, Pens,’ Sintek said, making full use of his hands as they walked. ‘This is gonna be a real great time, I mean, all things considered but especially considering the level of constraint. That could have an interesting effect on your work, couldn’t it? What was the name of that one group who used to impose constraints on their work to see what would wind up happening, you know the one?’

‘OuLipo.’

‘OuLipo! Yes! Think of it that way! You won’t be able to go very far but you’ll get to see your eh … your-your—’

‘Ludmilla.’

‘Ludmilla and the little one! You did work at home when you worked, didn’t you? I imagine you had a little office of some kind?’

‘I had an office downtown. I worked in parks and coffee shops. I sometimes went to the library. I never work at home.’

‘Oh well … maybe now’s the time to start then.’ Sintek said, lifting a hand in the air.

Pensivemo didn’t say anything. He pulled his cigarette out of his mouth and let his hand fall to his side as he breathed smoke from his nostrils.

‘You’re gonna appreciate this time, nevertheless, Pens. Family is the most important thing, right?’

***

Pensivemo Croce pushed the little one on the swing. She laughed and giggled with tickled delight. Their yard was flat with a chain-link fence which gave them a view of several other yards also separated by chain-link fences. Two yards away, a young pregnant girl smoking a cigarette turned, saw him, threw her cigarette on the ground, stepped on it and went back inside.

Far down the edge of their street, there sat a white car and from where Pensivemo stood pushing his little girl, he could see someone sitting inside. In the yard across the street facing theirs, he heard something from the trees that sounded at first like pigeons cooing but realized after a short moment that it was actually chuckles and giggles. There was movement on one of the thick branches. A leg. Pensivemo nearly forgot to give his little girl another push on the swing and she almost knocked into him. He caught her with two flat hands, pushed and adjusted his eyes to a whole group of darkly dressed men sitting in that tree across the street. Their faces were well shaded by the thick leaves.

Pensivemo told his little girl to wait for a moment while he went inside. She protested, following him into the house, whining, wondering and inquiring. In an ashtray on the table, the remains of a cigarette of Ludmilla’s sat smoking, its end resting on the glass edge next to a piece of already opened mail. He leaned over and saw that it had Ludmilla’s information at the top. He opened it up and read the whole thing, making sure he had this right. Yes, it was a call for jury-duty for the Lower-Level A court.

He sighed, audibly slapped the letter on the table and called out to Ludmilla.

His little girl looked up at him. ‘Where’s mommy?’ she asked.

Pensivemo turned his head to listen for her movement. The steady hum of the shower was all he heard.

‘When are you gonna push me on the swing?’ his little girl asked.

‘In just a minute, I promise dear,’ Pensivemo said.

He went into the hallway and entered his and Ludmilla’s room. The sound of the shower, in the bathroom attached to that room, put him in a better auditory path to the water slapping and falling with different movements of Ludmilla as she hummed over it some tune he’d never heard.

Pensivemo looked at the four corners of his room and contemplated which one he would turn into his personal office while she was away on jury-duty.

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