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Apeiron, Aziz


  Apeiron, Aziz

  by

  James Michael White

  Copyright © 2000

  James Michael White

  Cover art

  Copyright © 2011

  by Sapular L. Waheem

  NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  A STATE OF BEING…

  Aziz walked with his hands in the pockets of his faded and out-of-fashion black jeans, now gray and worn through at the cuffs, pockets and waist. He shivered in his too-small gray leather jacket, his dark and unshaven face looking paranoid and terroristic enough behind mirrored shades that people went out of their way to avoid him on the sidewalk. He had just turned thirty, officially, at two a.m. this morning, and that pissed him off; tick off another year of going nowhere.

  Cold wind blew down from Manhattan’s tall buildings, making his teeth chatter, his gait unsteady in gusts like the impersonal breath of the gods trying to puff out a flame. Curse them all. Curse whatever made him what he was. Curse the special talent and the special knowledge with which he was, seventeen years now, cursed.

  Seventeen years! He shook his fist at the sky, he, the unbeliever, who believed only that he needed something to hate and to blame. Anything. Even an ersatz pantheon.

  The future is an amorphous realm of maybes, all depending upon the myriad choices a man makes. Each choice creates a new set of maybes, and each maybe its own myriad of additional possibilities.

  Knowing possibilities was Aziz’s talent. It was also his curse.

  Curses!

  He saw futures embedded in possibilities.

  He knew, personally, like living every day with a broken rib that would never heal, what a terrible thing it was to be psychic, to see futures, and to know that he didn’t have one. It was hell to live like that. He was in a Hell abandoned by an indifferent Satan and ruled by smoke-breathing idiot demons, some wearing suits, others with pieces of metal impaling their anatomy, ink running beneath their skin in colorful bruises they called tattoos.

  In that hell’s waking moments, futures appeared to him like reels of infinitely repeating and infinitely permutable stock market quotations. By concentrating on the areas of his interest he could, with a few reviews of the reel, catch what he wanted among the permutations. All he had to do was tap a moment, a moment strong enough, or interesting enough, that he could see its ticker-tape resonance, see its domino-effect ad infinitum. Choose what he wanted to see amid the world: people, events, even animals.

  In those waking moments he could ignore that reel, but sleep was its own peculiar Hell. In sleep, he no longer dreamed; it was always the reel of his own life. Again and again. Misery going on and on, replaying in the one place he could not ignore it. Like Kepler’s doom, famine, doom universal harmony, the tenor of his life was isolation, misery, anonymity: it didn’t matter what he wanted because he would never get it; he would never excel; he would never succeed; he would never amount to anything; he would never be anything. His would be an anti-life with he-would-nevers ad infinitum.

  Did the curse supplant his dreams; or, cursing his inability to obtain those dreams, did the curses themselves become hypostatized, the anti-dream made real by the inappropriate concentration of his energy?

  Who could say? From this Hell, the Father of Lies had run away. The one truth that remained was his knowledge of how it would end.

  The reel showed in various detail an existence dull, devoid of real meaning or impact, an existence that merely went on and then stopped, without fanfare, without notice, some fifty years farther down the line, in a cracked-brick and roach-infested nursing home, that flame finally puffed out.

  Curse the injustice of being doomed to live a life you know you can never change!

  The injustice, the Hell, all started when he was thirteen, watching his sister playing he piano. He had realized, quite suddenly and with a clarity that defied reason, that the then gangly Hashimi Sabir would, at a voluptuous twenty years old, a recently-minted graduate of Juilliard, play her first public concert with the Austrian symphony. A smash hit, she would go on to a life of international acclaim and fortune and adoration.

  It came true. He watched it every step of the way before it happened. Just like he watched his loving parents grow old enough together to be disappointed that their only son, Aziz, with dual degrees in Journalism and English — not the engineering they hoped for — would go eight years without work (unless you counted those fry-cook years at Goldstein’s Grill, which they didn’t) before finally landing a job at the world’s shittiest newspaper, Manhattan’s underground rag, the Chronicle of Pain; a Journal for the Disaffected. Almost everyone who worked there was gay and smoked. Almost everyone who read it was gay and smoked. But he wasn’t, and he didn’t smoke. His parents feared the worst.

  "Curse you all, motherfuckers!" Aziz said, just before he entered the first-floor office of Manhattan’s most underground news rag, the Chronicle of Pain; a Journal for the Disaffected. People on the street barely glanced at him.

  The gods blew on. The harmony repeated.

  A STATE OF SEMI-CONSCIOUS BEING…

  I am Zolon.

  Upon a worn Natuzzi leather couch, brown as earth, inside a small, dim apartment populated largely by an infestation of gray mice that happily gnaw the carpet and lower extremities of the couch, lies the axis mundi of Your corpus.

  Zolon the Magnificent.

  This city is a dungeon, its people are its prisoners. The streets and the buildings its cells. The sun. What is the sun but temptation of an artificial hope, the daily reemergence of a dying promise?

  Zolon the Great.

  Time, in its infinite cruelty, brings another day — and if that were not cruel enough, it then brings another!

  Once Your works were clear and pure in purpose. Now You repair TVs, anonymously, because You are too lazy to move. Indeed, have not moved since You took the fat, repugnant effort to place that ad in the yellow pages: TVs repaired cheaply and efficiently, call and then some meaningless phone address, without even the proper number of digits. People had broken TVs. They considered having them fixed. Some bought new TVs. Some had their brother in law "who is good at electronics" fix them. Some resorted to attempting the feat themselves. And at last some scanned the yellow pages; some choosing other repairmen — ripoff artists and hacks; some lucky few choosing Your ad. Lucky few, they began to second-guess as they looked at Your odd number. Lucky few, they began to think that maybe they should try the TV one more time. Lucky few, they discovered that — amazingly! — their TVs worked better than the day they had bought them, sometimes bringing in a new premium channel or two (depending on Zolon’s mood, sometimes three).

  Zolon the mighty. How bright were Your stars. How vast were Your empty spaces!

  Still lying on the same mice-gnawed couch where You spent Your last hundred days (or maybe it was years). And You read Chronicle of Pain; a Journal for the Disaffected, though it is undoubtedly the shittiest newspaper in all of Manhattan; in fact, the shittiest paper in the history of so-called newspapers. You read because there is one voice clear among the topoi of jejune doggerel. Aziz Sabir. A name so shitty it could only be fake, yet a name attached to a magnificent acrostic spanning weeks of publication, an acrostic so densely insightful it would crack a kabbalist’s skull, an acrostic hidden within the weekly column of Aziz Sabir, "Life, and Everything", a column professing social commentary but so cleverly, so secretly, a whip against the future.

  The future! Perennially dying promise!

  Nothing is hidden. All laid bare.
History repeats itself. A never ending show. Cry you monkeys; your tears have been cried before. Love you monkeys; your love has been loved before. O but never like this; not like this before! You are insane if you believe that. Existence is autotelic, the telos is meaningless. Autos meaning same, meaning self, plus telos meaning end; substitute meaningless. The end is meaningless and yet it goes on! An infinite regress of Möbius infinity. The future: what you think you have is not yours; what you think you have has been owned by a thousand others and a thousand more before them, and a thousand more after you are gone. The reciprocating machine produces nothing and means nothing, cosmogenic cycle be damned. Reciprocation is the circle, the circle is auto, the telos is meaninglessness.

  And so the acrostic, two weeks after its inception, ended.

  Zolon the Maker, Zolon the Stupendous One, was moved.

  Aziz’s office, a paper-filled and sticky-noted cubby hole sporting a folding card table for a desk, water-stained carpet, a moldy maroon-brick wall, a photograph of Hashimi the famous and beautiful virtuoso that no one believed was his sister, and a cheap coffee-spotted laptop that crashed often, was at the drafty rear of the Chronicle of Pain. To get there, he had to walk the gauntlet of hauteur faces and grim futures he already knew.

  It went like this:

  Pale Tony, twenty-nine-year-old art director, with his penchant for berets, tiny round glasses and long filter cigarettes; AIDS already flourishing inside though he wouldn’t know it for another year. That persistent cough, it’s only a cold; should give up the cigarettes, or change to a new filter. How do you like my hat? (I would like to crush it, with your head still in it, you foppish poseur.)

  Ever so George-Hamilton-tanned Russ, fifty-year-old Editor and General Manager, with two ex-wives, four alimony payments (they had good lawyers), and a little black book of names and numbers in Las Vegas; AIDS staved off these last two year by massive doses of AZT, coffee enemas and chanting over incense. By the way, next week we’ll have to reduce your column space. (I’m the only reason people read your rag!)

  Gaironne, the twenty-three-year-old, hollow-eyed, spike-haired, blonde beat reporter, with her history of abuse made into tattoos writ upon olive skin like screaming photographs of her soul, all skulls and chains and spikes; drug overdose in only — Aziz consulted the reel — six more weeks, two if she started the heroin again tonight. I know I’m a freak, but must you stare? (Yes! Your glyphic flesh demands, "Look at me!")

  Jeffrey, thirty-two though he told everyone he was twenty-eight, financial manager and events coordinator, with his bleached blond ponytail, his rainbow ties, his shiny lips, his I-can’t-speak-without-cursing attitude; AIDS. Goddammit! don’t tell me I’m a fag! I know I’m a fag! stop persecuting me! (If you stopped reminding me, I would!)

  Gene, the magnificent twenty-two-year-old secretary, with her Elvis-Presley-black hair cut like a man’s, her fashionable glasses, her body like a shock of libidinous lightning; soon to be killed by a jealous lover though he had, to her laughter, warned her many times. If you weren’t a man, I would love you. (Shit, what he'd give to be a dyke with her for a night!)

  Erma, the twenty-nine-year-old Titanic limper and political reporter whose two hundred pounds of excess weight couldn’t possibly be to blame for that ache in her arch, the spurs on her heel, the throbbing in her knee; soon to be jailed for killing the cheating Gene. Men are shit. That they are shit is why I look this way; I rebel against the patriarchal aesthetic that oppresses women. (Don’t make excuses: you have a rotten personality, you’re ugly and you’re fat.)

  Tony The Hip, twenty-three-year-old recent college graduate and present general assignment reporter whose father was a lawyer, whose mother was a doctor, both of whom liked each other little and him even less; AIDS in ten more years, but don’t try to warn him or he’ll sock your eye out. I ain’t stupid, man! (Two syllables smart boy: con-dom.)

  Scott, a thirty-six-year-old medical reporter, pale round face still acne plagued at thirty-two, remnants of dark hair combed over baldness; an alcoholic who would meet death by petrified liver in eight more years, but don’t try to warn him or you’ll compound a depression that will only bring the petrification sooner. I don’t drink because I have a problem; I drink to make the voices go away. (You’re sick, man.)

  Ramon, a twenty-eight-year-old police reporter with pictures of Salma Hayek in his wallet and a .32 in his back pocket; AIDS. I’m going to be the next Geraldo Rivera, only I won’t change my name! (Don’t worry, you won’t live long enough.)

  Lucinda, twenty-eight-year-old assistant managing editor, exceedingly happy to her co-workers, the one spot of brightness in the dreary office, no matter its cogent artifice; anorexic death by heart attack. Would anyone like coffee? I like to make it sweet! (Of course you do. You’re trying to live on sugar and caffeine.)

  Bill, forty-nine-year-old departments manager, lead editorialist, and only remaining co-founder of the Chronicle; happy monogamy until death of lover at fifty-three, followed by suicide. Jesus Christ! Why don’t our advertisers ever pay us? We’ll sue the bastards for discrimination! (Why pay for advertisements nobody sees?)

  The staff at the Chronicle was its own voice and, too often, its own audience. Aziz ignored them all. They, self-absorbed as he, ignored him, too. He retreated to his cold brick wall, wind moaning through hidden things flapping and banging behind vents above, retreated to his squeaky chair with the foam rubber coming out, and sorted his latest pile of messages: an invitation to an art show at Club SupraX (red ink on pink paper, give that one to Tony); a third demand from his landlord to pay his rent or find himself on the streets (give that one to Bill who always signed his paychecks late); an invitation granting an audience with the Great and Immortal Zolon, Zolon the Luminous, Zolon the Mighty, Zolon the Stupendous and Everlasting (on a page of leafed gold, like orange foil — keep that one for himself!).

  "Gene?"

  Gene poked her head over the top of his cubicle. Oval eyeglasses today, bright metal frames, she had — he hated to admit — a body to kill for. Curse it all!

  "Yeah?"

  "Look at this."

  Gene looked at the note. Her lenses glimmered with reflected gold. "Wow. Where did you get that?"

  "It was with my other messages. You didn’t take this?"

  "No."

  "You took the others?"

  "Yes."

  "It wasn’t slipped in with the others?"

  "No."

  "You don’t know Zolon?" Of course he knew she didn’t. He had scrutinized her future since the first moment he met her when he started working here five years ago, hoping that he had finally met The One (though he knew he would never meet The One): she was a devoted lesbian and she enjoyed it. With her he had no chance. On top of that, she didn’t know a Zolon, she had never known a Zolon, and she would never know a Zolon. The same for the others. The name meant nothing to them. It also meant nothing to him, which intrigued him — such a rare event.

  "So how did this get on my desk?"

  "Someone must have put it there."

  He stopped looking at Gene, inaccessible and, in another year, soon-to-be-dead Gene. He stared at the weighty message: nine a.m. this morning, sharp, at Grove’s Diner; expect Zolon.

  "I think I’ll do a story on it."

  "Great."

  He stood and pulled his jacket from the back of his chair. "Stay away from Erma."

  When he looked for Gene, she was already gone.

  The diner was one of those places with long windows on the street-side, a colorful yellow and orange awning out front, and the name GROVE’S DINER painted in red letters on glass. There were tables by the windows, booths along the walls, and a long counter with stools and coffee stains. It was too hot inside. A chuck of wood held the door propped open.

  When Aziz entered, nine o’clock sharp, there were only two people inside: Harry Grove, Jr., the white-aproned former Navy man whose few sprigs of hair grew on top like Don King’s; and a skinny brown-haired
woman wearing lawyer attire, a briefcase at her side. She sipped aromatic French vanilla cappuccino and nibbled a brownie the size of a piece of pie.

  "Zolon?" Aziz asked.

  Grove shook his head.

  The lawyer kept eating and in a flash Aziz saw that she had a nine-thirty appointment with Russ and Bill during which they would discuss the closing of the Chronicle of Pain and the selling of its worn-out assets (including his coffee-stained laptop). He learned that the paper had been in financial straits the past year, up for sale for two, and was now going to be terminated by the various legal papers in her briefcase, papers Russ and Bill were salivating to sign.

  Shit.

  Aziz sat in one of the empty booths.

  He was going to lose his job. His fourteen-thousand-dollar-a-year-this-was-the-best-damned-thing-I-could-get job.

  He had known that, of course, but he had never paid attention to when, having grown accustomed to ignoring the details of his repeating dream, turning his curse instead to the examination of others who never believed what he could reveal about their futures.

  "Order the mocha-choco cappuccino."

  Aziz was startled to see a man sitting across from him in the booth, as simply as if he had been there the whole time, which he had not. The fellow appeared to be a fifty-year-old version of Samuel R. Delany, which meant he was black, tattooed, and wore a gray crewcut that matched the color of his incredibly long gray beard. He had read Delany’s fiction with fervor in graduate school until he discovered his scholarly criticisms, which struck him as better by far. He was so sure this man was Samuel R. Delany that he checked the reel of his life. It went faster than any he had ever seen. And it kept going! It was not a loop he could watch over and over, picking out repeating bits like Dhalgren or Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones. It simply was a continuum he could not discern.

  For the first time in more than a decade Aziz felt exhilaration. Here he was confronted by something he did not already know. Here he was confronted by something he felt he could not know! In that uncertainty lay possibility, and possibility excited him.

 
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