Station to Station

When I sleep, I’m tuned to a dead channel. Ants across a picnic blanket, blacklight snow. Sometimes, if my head rolls into the right position on my bed, if the night is dark and the weather is clear, I can pick things up - voices from Mexico, fingers of pornography - but only for a moment. I don’t sleep long, because the static can be too much - the echoed applause of a thousand dead gods. I lie on the mattress perfectly still, listening to close gunshots, eyes tracing the pasted-on silhouettes of antennas reaching like thin arms up to Heaven. I wonder if the signals they pick up are the same as my own, I wonder if I can step away from all this and live as they do. I close my eyes and try to focus. I scratch at the scars on my chest. My tongue outlines my teeth, searching for the metal in my fillings, the trace of God in my body.

The bullets didn’t hurt. They were only a special effect. I didn’t feel any pain when they rode through my sternum, kissed my lungs - I didn’t feel anything at all. I screamed, I bled as much as my body would allow, but it wasn’t anything real. That’s only what I’d been trained to do. My whole life had been a performance, and this wasn’t any different. It was only an animal response, an activated mechanism. Anybody would have done the same, because that’s how it’s been written out. Cold reading, cue-to-cue, no ad-libs.

Three shots. First: fourth right rib, sternoclavacular fracture and dislocation. Second: sixth right rib, right lung, esophagus. Third: seventh right rib, spleen, liver. Concussion when I met the concrete. Not sure about blood loss - lots, I guess - but I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much. The wounds weren’t real. The scars are for show, another cheap sewn-on effect - rigid papier-mâché torn out of the trash and stretched over my heart. It’s all gimmicked. None of it is real. My life has never been real.

Television. I’ve been watching television.

Stations change, scenery shifts, shows go off and on, but it’s all television. I’ve never been alive, I’ve never moved an inch or breathed a word. It’s all been part of a show, a clockwork operation. The bullets showed me that. As the burning powder exploded against my flesh, I realized that I could see myself through his eyes, in the third person. For a moment, I wasn’t what I thought - not the body being torn apart, the screaming memories. For just a second, I saw myself as I really am: an empty shadow hovering over painted landscapes. I saw that I couldn’t do anything about it, that I couldn’t defeat myself. I can’t change anything. There’s no choice. I have to live my life as television.

From outside my door, I hear the apartment creak and cry, the familiar sound of ragged claws scraping the wooden floor of the hallway. The light from under my door is torn to pieces by an anonymous black shape. A fist rattles like a hammer against the doorjamb, a feeble voice says a word I can’t understand. I return with a clatter and a grunt. Kansas enters on cue, stage left, his body hidden in the apartment's urine light.

“Will you go with me to get cigarettes?” he says.

“Yes,” I say. Before the bullets, I might have told him about what I’d heard earlier, about the howling laughter and machine gun fire, as if he didn’t know, as if it could dissuade him or me. But Kansas is a professional, he’ll always stick to the script, and I can only do what I’m told. As Kansas feels for the lightswitch, I pull my costume up from its death posture on the floor back over my naked body. The shirt itches like burlap against my wounds. I look down and wonder if I could peel them away, reveal the clean surface of my flesh below, but before I can try Kansas is back in the hallway, heading out. I follow him through the door just as another shot crawls through my open window.

Kansas leads the way to the dirty corner store. I watch the sidewalk like a film reel, each frame a subtle variation on the last. Streetlamp shadows march along in time with us. Fissures grow and shrink like breathing worms. Fluid pools pop in and out of existence like burns on a print. I don’t pay attention to the stage around me. This sidewalk could be my whole world, if only I could crawl inside it. I keep my head hung to admire it like a reflection. It’s only when Kansas speaks that I look up, that I acknowledge the scene.

“It’s been almost a year, hasn’t it?”

“Yes.” I fight a smile as I remember the slow penetration of the bullets, the sulfury smell of cordite staining my thoughts like an old lover’s perfume. Kansas looks away from me and nods.

“I know that it’s been very difficult, and I’m sorry.”

“Yes.” I turn my head to a shop window to watch our reflection in the glass, to ensure that both our performances have been maintained, that we aren’t too sloppy or knock-kneed, that our soles hit each mark with mechanical precision. I was alone that night. I wonder what might have happened if Kansas had been the one to go out, or if we’d gone together. If Kansas would have been forced into the truth like I was, or if he’s too dedicated to performance. He hates me, I think, because he thinks I hate him for what happened. When he found me on the concrete I knew I loved him, his incredible dedication to lies. I wonder how he’d managed to look so guilty while smoking the remains of the pack I’d gone for, how he could cry so convincingly when I’d only glimpse at him. Thinks of a dog, maybe, or his mother.

The streets besides the corner store are dark, and the fluorescent light from inside it looks like an infection, a spotlight over a tumor. Kansas moves forward as though he were risking his life, as though a thousand eager eyes were tracking him across the concrete catwalk. In the alleyway beside us a trash can sits like a hungry bird, leering. The warm soundtrack of breathing seeps out from the black velvet wound, the night hissing to us “please” and “thank you.” Kansas opens the door and we step from wet dirt onto medical tile.

As Kansas talks to the man behind the counter, I watch ourselves on the security monitor, eyes glued to the movement of our breathing chests. We look so real when we’re on the screen. Outside, I hear a noise, like an umbrella meeting a sewing machine, the scurrying of opossum feet. Kansas flashes his head towards the door, then back to the counter. Drops his money, thanks the cashier, grabs the cigarettes, tells me we’re going. I watch as we leave the frame on the security monitor, pulled out of existence.

Kansas exhales and we take a few quick steps back in the direction of our apartment.

We see the white face of a man escape from the dark alleyway and turn to face us, yellow eyes focused on our heartbeats.

“Got a cigarette?”

The man looks like a tombstone, and smells like a grave.

“Get fucked,” Kansas says, careful not to look him in the eyes. The man takes another step out into the semenstain light, frowns, draws a gun.


Kansas freezes dead in his tracks. The man raises the metal phallus up to my face, smiles.

“Please,” he says.”

Kansas fumbles in his pants, searching for anything. I don’t move at all, transfixed by the beauty of the object in front of me. The man takes a short step backward and moves his aim towards my chest, as though he could see the wounds, the gun pulled by down surgical plates.

“You too. Give it here.” I look at his eyes and can only see myself. He coils his finger more tightly around the trigger. Kansas is paralyzed, and I can tell he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. I remember the performance. I push my finger down the length of the barrel. Bugs Bunny. If he pulls the trigger, the gun will blow up is his face, staining him black. I watch his expression change from cold death to disgusted confusion. He exhales a slow breath of embalming fluid. His finger slips out of the trigger guard. Kansas snaps to the gun, and the two start to wrestle. The men scream and grunt like animals as they become more and more entangled. My body remains perfectly still, eyes darting to follow the path of the gun between their hands, the two trading the barrel’s length like tugging a rope.

Two shots, very quickly. Sulfur and conflagration fill the air. The man’s jaundiced eyes turn to me and he smiles, revealing sharp teeth.

Kansas hits the ground like I did before, perfectly rehearsed. The entry wounds pepper and cook his flesh, the blood paints him. As he rattles in the light, an exposed piece of bone calls out, ready to be harvested. He sounds like a hammer. I admire him like you would a child, charmed by his dedication. He’s perfect. I love him as much as I knew I did. Blood pours out of his mouth like roaches out from under a refrigerator. I hear the clatter of teeth just out of frame.

Two more shots. These I feel. My hands clutch at my stomach, as though they could hold it all in. I’m helpless. As my blood begins to escape, I start to smile - to corpse. I hear distant footsteps as the man runs back into the long shadow of the alley.

My fall is ugly, as though I hadn’t rehearsed it. My wounds are too small, too spread apart, too amateurish. I hurt too much. There isn’t enough blood, I don’t make enough of a noise. Haven’t I ever been shot before? I’m ashamed, utterly. I can’t believe that I’ve blown it. The alleyway hisses at me, humiliated to be a part of the scene. My body hits the concrete with a dull thud, my teeth still stretching a moon across my face. I want to scream, to leap back up, to thumb my nose at the camera, to do the scene over again and do it right, but I can’t. My body refuses to give up its ruined performance. The moon hanging over me spits its white light into my naked blood. My teeth chatter as the silver outline of a rooftop antenna cuts a rugged cross onto my eyes. I’m so sorry. I beg you to forgive me. You deserve so much better.