Now is this fair, gods? I know you’re picking on me because I’m dressed like a bird…
As soon as Maggie enters the Disco Temple, she decides against depositing her baby down the plastic joy slide. The thought isn’t willed, and nor is it automatic like the soft, erotic click of the door behind her sealing out the town, the men of the town, the gangs with purple eyes. She repositions the child’s tight-wrapped keester, dangling him by the shoulders temporarily, so that she can effectively click her sore forearms. This is a vital task, she finds, for thinking about anything. Or, in all seriousness, just prolonging a brain wisp, her way of understanding a thought, so that it does not immediately cease. And who knows, maybe this time twisting her knuckles this or that way, and doing all the right little rituals would give that wisp a body, calcify it. The music of the rapper named “I-AM-GOD” blares over her shoulders like the meaty tongue of a lion. Why on earth didn’t she want her little lad to bugger off down the slide? The answer would come with another wrist click, another adjustment of the child — this time touching his neck maybe, (safely, of course) — and looking him dead in the eyes with her left eyeball, her white one. Milky, she called it, when she was a little girl. And her red-eyed kid would stare through it like the sheet over a bullseye in search of a target. Shock an arrow through her brain, he would, a golden one, and then she would remember what exactly had already made an exit wound in her head, and how exactly it had expunged the ordinary data that made it normal to shove the brat down the pipes.
Like, come on. She looks, probably, pale as a mink with tight-sewn eyes. Her pupils are jiggling like wasp buttocks. Full of sting, hatred, and actual pain. And what is she looking at? How does it feel to twitch with nails for eyes? Wouldn’t the world just look like blood? The Disco Temple, after this brief dawdle in the antechapel, unfurls itself in front of her. As usual, she feels like a flea in the mouth of a corpse. The flicker of lights — the man-sized equivalent of fireflies eating the bowels? — goes all the way down the digestive system in front of her. The bowels are infinite all the way down to the darker, tighter core of the intestines. That is how far the space goes in and down; she will never go in there and come back. Like, come on. She twists the plastic implants by the baby’s ears and watches as his mouth widens into a minute gasp. He’ll have the volume down for a bit, she explains to herself, and then, when he acclimatises, we’ll let him have it. Pour the rainbows down his ear canals. That’ll do him as it did me — I was that age. Once, yes… How are her legs looking? Where is the line? An iron centaur with a purple pelt is about three or four blocks in front of her. The HenDo are over there: each one cupping a baby between their arms, not knowing exactly what to do with the little creatures. Not dolls, but not human beings yet. A curious mix among weirder women. Becky, Maggie can see, is raising a Nastoyka to her lips — her own little everything, her green-eyed Heather, taking a tumble onto a floor-sweeping bounce pad, but never crying as she is returned to the wine mum’s arms. Mutually intoxicated, one simply in the joy of being alive, they coddle and slobber on each other. A pair of Doberman cryptids, one with pink eye. The DJ booth is invisible or so universal that it could never be comprehended. That’s where the “I AM” happens to reside with all his hullabaloo of technicians and groupies. The floor smells of tar everywhere and their little zone, the danger zone logically implied by this infinite safe room, probably smells the same.
But not because the Disco Temple was built on the grounds of native spirits. A growling Statue of Liberty with a magic wand and birth control pills resides, wild as Boudica, in the centre. No Dionysius could fright her. No Gog and Magog.
Nothing at all local. This is just how it is.
The room is chuntering. Itself moves up and down. Slides to the left.
Just a little bit in front of the eternal Hen-Do (none of them being married since the last war, and all being self-partnered excepting Maggie), a pile of Brownie schoolgirls like a mound of skulls drenched in blood scatter ginger beer. A true frolic, thinks Maggie, a true frolic that.
And God knows what Jerry — the baby — makes of the whole thing.
What did I make of all this my first time? “Yeah, O it’s Puppy! Girls, look it’s Puppy!” They bound around him and start barking: the geezer with the Alsatian head.
“Woof! Wooo, wooo!” The yelps break off into a traditionalist harridan chorus.
“Why’s he like that? — Why are you like that?” Spookie asks Puppy.
“In short,” he bursts into laughter, gets his tongue slightly stuck at the back of his neck. “I loved my dog too much!”
“Hahahahahahah!” says Minerva. (He saw a video of Russian scientists keeping a dog’s head alive by pumping blood into it, and got his surgeon, Bartok, to take it from there.)
“Wooo!!” says Puppy. “Can I interest any of you in a Smoothie? Discounts at the ball pit if you get it on the app!”
“Wooo!” says Maggie, kissing the dog on the lips and, actually, really feeling loved. “I love this party!”
“That a baby you got there?”
“Yeah, we’ve all got ‘em.” says Minnie (Minerva); her own possessing a small bright nozzle instead of a nose.
“How much?” — Puppy.
“I don’t know. We made them.”
“You mean you had them made?”
“No,” says Spookie; she undoes her black goth pelt, concealing a pair of inverted slightly stylish queer SS runes, “We made them.” The holy trinity: under the liposuction scar, and the implants, a neat curvaceous crescent. “—Where they took my womb out, stoopid!” Puppy giggles uncontrollably. “Well, girlies, I’ll be seeing you round.” And disappears, barks around the corner of a black wall, and goes off to sell additional chemicals round the Boyzone. Each man has to wear an electroshock collar since, depending on their tickets, they have to keep from the women by one degree or another. Kids, however, go free wherever they want. A five year old blonde maniac goes by with gummies for teeth. Or gums. But, a claxon! “Listen up!” says Minnie. They roll their foreheads upward, stargazing across the gooey roof. Do stalactites of perspiration form there? How warm is it?
“The bulls will be out soon enough. Fresh minotaur shoulders. Starchy. You know what!
So get your kids in the pipes. Quick, schnell!”
And they all laugh, and coo, filled with a wind of profound civilisation, although Maggie pauses. She pauses? She pauses, it seems.
She’s staring at the roof and the things past it, gnawing her blue nails slightly. Her milk eye grows. Her red one slightly diminishes. She decelerates, as it were. Do the bodies move on their own?
“Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa.” Jerry meanders through his one half-word. Feet in the water by a tiny brook. At night. No lights on. Or that’s how she, Maggie, imagines it through him.
The bodies have moved on their own. They are by the joy slide filled with energy. Her, Maggie’s, hands are moving at a slower aspect ratio than she is used to. She can make them linger in place visually even as she shifts them somewhere else. They cast light shadows.
The mouth of the slide is a cutesy black-headed dragon. And they want the kids gone, or It does. How will it feel to go down there? To go down whatsoever —lower than this? And then there is having a beast man for a lover this evening. A special evening. Abuse. Would it be abuse to deny oneself the divine opportunity?
“Whaat? Maggie!” chimes in Spookie. Fat bell of a fiend. “Is something the matter?”
“Nothing’s the matter.”
“Watch!” says Loquacia. “Here’s Julie.”
She hunches the tired baby face (and body) into the vaccuum, and the girl is giggling as she slides her way down and out.
“Wasn’t that easy?” says Minnie.
Maggie’s face is a crescent of red in the torchlight. They have torches on the wall by the black basin. “Nothing is the matter.” Maggie says.
“Do you want a glass of water?”
“I do not.”
Maggie holds Jerry in her arms and slides her hands, again, over the plastic by his ears.
He has eyes like — the one who had sex with her a year and a half ago.
“You can go down there too if you want!” says Loquacia.
Heather, that other infant, is dispensed — the slide’s imbued hormones doubtless running up and down her legs in a pleasurable way. Surely she will stand like a baby elk by the end of this evening. Do her mama proud.
“You know what it’s like.”
“Like what?” says Maggie, unsure who she’s addressing.
“We’ll take you after you drop him. It’s a massive ball pit.”
“A pit of balloon-red balls under a tall cave sky. Like—”
“A Queen of the Night sky.” says Maggie.
A faint jumble of lips. Very distant. Soon enough, at this time in the day, whole waves of the crowd will start flying. The anti-gravity will switch on; some pranksters will deactivate a few of the guy’s collars. Yelling, screeching, hilarity ensues. A kind of rollercoaster made of human bodies. Of course, it’s safe: no one is ever in the wrong here, or wronged for that matter.
The systems are too perfect for any of that.
“Paa—” Is that the sound of giving up or is it Jerry?
No, no: it’s Alvin.
He spins around the corner that Puppy left —pink suit and all— and tickles her under her arm so she drops Jerry. Laughter. A kind of group laugh track?
Activated in Maggie is the enormous sense of having the most precious object slip from her and, worse —though should it be worse? — the opportunity to seize control over it by getting rid of it, of him, of throwing him off. I didn’t get to throw Jerry down the tube!
Maggie is incensed.
“Is she alright?” he says to Spookie or Minnie.
“I’m fine!” Maggie screams into the darkness. She feels wronged like a castaway at the end of the earth. Nobody’s here. “You fucking ruined it Alvin!”
As the welling of tears succeeds every definitive face she can see (and she doesn’t want to hear anything), the far off figure of a man in a bear or bird suit consummating his love seems to dance into her periphery. “Whaaat the fuk is that!”
But all her words blur. For the others, this is just another Maggie moment, as there have been Spookie, and Minnie, and Loquacia, and Alvin, and Puppy moments, even, in the past. She wipes her face and looks down at her gold-plated watch, observing that the latest news item is a mass shooting of Pacific Islanders before deciding that the only way out of all this bullshit is an irreparably sore and hard session of Pelvic Yoga down among the yak skull and crossbones on her right.
I-AM-GOD, meanwhile on the mic, quotes the Buddha as Jerry reaches the exit of the joy slide: “Now, now, brother, I will never enter another womb.”
As Jerry plummets he considers time and space and cinemas, or their equivalents — the blossoming bud of a widescreen in his brain — under the influences of both the “curative” hormones the slide is laced with and the truly incredible psychological state he possesses as an infant: one that simply allows the user to wish himself to sleep whenever the world becomes too much. The Disney cartoon The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was based on a Goethe poem. The holographic projection of these words, if that’s what it is, waves throughout his head. He sees a long reed played with among quiet river waters. That’s how it feels. He, Jerry, is the reed. Or an insect on that reed deepening down the chute.
Arriving — [welcome, says the terminal: each letter emphasised to trick a young brain into learning] — it is indeed a beautiful blue Queen of the Night room, and whatever that means is what this is. Jerry flexes his thumbs, staring at the slightly crab-like mitts that are his hands below the artificial topaz moons. There are six of them. There are mummy angels of every race and demographic standing, robotic, above a pool of red flowers — silly play balls — and numerous kids in different degrees of bliss and intense wonder. A blue-haired East Asian child, Mina, with a Doric facial structure (few embellishments) catches his fancy, which is to say the sophisticated zoological eye that only an infant can possess about any subject that comes under his lens. Goo!
“Gooo!” says Jerry. “Paaa!” His eyes shorten in imitation of the face before him. An actual mirror. Proper. A kind face.
“Looo!” says the girl.
And “Gooo!” cries Jerry.
The sky shines beneficent mermaids over them. Two of the mummy angels mimic a care and amusement that they do not share, trying not to ruin the exchange or, as their merely human masters might refer to it, cultural entanglement.
“Gooo! Ooogh!” And Jerry tries pointing at someone.
Mina, already quiet and haunted by disposition, responds by looking just above his gaze at the spot where she might kiss him in ten or twenty years.
“Paa—” says Mina in imitation.
And “Maa” goes Jerry, for the first time. An eyebrow bends: a non-entity, he addresses.
They carry this on for a full five minutes before the infinite amusements and pranks of their divine zoo get the better of them, chargrill their love to dust. The highlight, however, is not forgotten easily, not even amongst the grey matter of these children picked on by the gods. In the technicolour childhood of their eyes — the kaleidoscopic finish to a natural look — comes an implied light, the same perhaps as falls magnificently between the depopulated streets as morning comes. Press your eyes hard together. Squint. You’ll see four eyes eventually. In the mirror of another face, this process alters. And faced with a pair of purple and blue eyes with red and white ones yourself, the effect is startling. Not simply an enmeshing and blurring of each colour, but the summoning up of one greater paternal warmth. The warmth of heat and life. Pale beyond lunar.
And then an angel hand presents a tablet and Maggie does the splits far above in the tower of the Temple, dancing, dancing till she drops. And then it’s gone.