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The Death of the Gadget Age by Brendan Byrne

Movement without movement. Coast, in-step on pedals. Calm, distorted rhythm and moan over earplugs. Neighborhood is still; mismatched houses, built to no plan, allowed to expand as the city does. Sweat. Sunday morning dead; no cars. C. sucks her lower lips. Tastes juice residue: mass-produced, same-taste, burn OJ. Sweet. There is no wind. Even moving through it at speed, the air is stagnant.

Stands in shop. Hip against glass case. Reading POD mag, overproduced, on BM. Shop is: hand cream and avocado facemasks. Smells of skin embalming: mummies of a certain sheen, unwrapped and newly scrubbed, walking easily, no staggering. iPod dribbles calm.  At first, she owned none of this music. She had to go to bittorrent sites to download, expunge the cockrock. She’s not sick of it; she knows she will be one day soon. White light makes up the windowpane, showing a street intricately detailed as a movie frame, touched up in postproduction. Empty.

Eggs quick then outside. Texts from Eric in a flurry: in-jokes and a casual reference to a recent death. C. smokes in the backyard standing up. Quickly and furtively ashing over the white Tom Sawyer fence into the Bucks’ veg garden. Flicks cig far into bush. Breathes smoke and rolls shoulders. Opens eyes to see youngest Buck, barely five, in the doorway, staring at her. C. smiles, gives a little open-handed wave.

Computer’s a cast-off from Eric’s employers. It resembles a small suitcase when folded; open it and it looks almost military, gun-like in how its absence of concession to style creates sexual fascination. Form fits function is a lie, but it’s a beautiful lie. Or so Eric likes to say.

It takes a while to boot: old embedded programs and ensconced code both barnacle the process, slow procession. While indecipherable language drags across the screen, she looks at scratches of notes made on napkin, her notebook (Chatwin’s kind, Chatwin – gang-raped). Then the long, florid, precise handwriting, developed through many hours in her girlhood, of the linear essay she’d written the night before after a glass of red, while the night’s dry muzzle pressed against the mesh screen window. It is shit.

C. is on her page without knowing it. Brain stalled in thought, her hands remembered rote movements and brought her there. Took her face a while to catch up. Simple wordpress thing, no design, no special template, no etc. Forty-odd new comments. C.’s been planning on turning the comments off, but she feels that would require at least looking at a few of them first, to see if they justified the act. She can’t do that though, because she can’t force herself to look at any of them in the first place.

Without considering, she types in what she’s been thinking about all day. About the parking lot. How you walked the length of it without allowing any drag-ass. How you made yourself stand up straight even though you’d been dreading this shit all day and how now it was OK, you were here and it was almost over, you just had to make it through the shift. In your parents’ living room two towns away, in bed, having dinner with friends, the undertow of the place sucked at you, and every time you left and the world didn’t make it your new thing easy, you went back for just a few shifts, because the money was so good and you were used to it and sitting at a computer and receiving the passive-aggressive attentions of a boss who thinks she’s Glenn Close is a new, special kind of humiliation to which you’re just not inured and never want to be. About how, this time, you don’t think you’ll go back but if you do, it won’t be a failure, it’ll just be life. But you don’t think you’ll go back.

Because they live in Texas and they can, that evening C. and Eric drive out a little into the desert and lie on the slowly cooling hood of their (his?) car and make out softly. After a while, they uncouple, still barely touching. Eric scratches his beard as if absent-minded; C. recognizes the tell.

“I had this dream the other morning while you were out in the garden. It was in a different city, a big-ass city but different from all the other big-ass cities I’ve been to, and I was in the back of a taxi and the cabbie didn’t know where we were going and neither did I.  I couldn’t get my phone to work. It was only showing me some kind of language I couldn’t read, something in-between Japanese, Klingon, and code. It just kept scrolling down the screen. And he just kept driving. I just kept sitting. And we just kept moving. Without knowing where we were going.”

C. doesn’t tell him about her dream.

C. had become moderately famous five weeks ago when her blog, which was mostly comprised of observations on being an exotic dancer was picked up (who knows how) by a popular SF writer/blogger, who praised her gorgeous prose and emotional deftness. With the Head of John the Baptist received over ten thousand hits in the first ten minutes. Her first conscious reaction was a write a series of posts on how to behave at a stripper bar as a neophyte customer. “Don’t act like you’re better than the place. Don’t tell the stripper your friends just dragged you along. You’re here and I’m here. I have no illusions about this. I can’t. I’m here every day. If you do, then you’re just shitting all over me.” Her numbers kept increasing.

She stopped stripping. It was a matter of strange timing; she’d been planning to leave for some time. Took the part-time at the lotion-location, would start classes in September. MFA nonfiction. She wrote about leaving, she wrote about staying away, she wrote about the undertow. She wrote about biking through town, coasting; she wrote about being in love. She wrote about Lorelei; she wrote about crack. This wasn’t what people wanted to hear. They didn’t know her name, and they had never seen her face, but they knew, very much, what they wanted from her.

Her dream had been about a painting called The Death of the Gadget Age. It was by a painter who was like, but was not, Joan Miró. She’d seen this painting before, she didn’t know where, probably at the MoMa in New York. It was comprised of numerous, meaningless mauve-colored spherical species in play with one another. They were arranged like cells or aliens breeding, caught all too intently without knowledge or reason or plan, while the world’s black backdrop slowly sloughed away behind them. She’d woken and googled the name of the painting but could not find any evidence that it had ever existed.

They stare up at the star-ridden sky. It is silent.

 

Brendan Byrne was born in DC and lives in New York; he fiction appears in FLURB, his criticism in The Brooklyn Rail. He tends bar until such time as his body learns to photosynthesize.