[Original Novella] The Lonely Road, Part 8
The gazebo bore a carving of a crescent moon just above the entrance. There were seven pillars in total, holding up the domed roof. The happy couple inside wore what looked to be their Sunday best. The fellow sporting a glossy top hat and cane, his better half wearing one of those ostentatiously wide brimmed hats with an enormous poofy feather in it that were in fashion at the time.
The standard of what constitutes a successful man does, at least, seem to have come down since then. If I had to amass all of this wealth, I’d give up on love and join a monastery. Diane would probably scold me for comparing this guy’s achievements to my own.
She always says I should instead compare my performance only to my own personal best. She’d tell me that my problem isn’t what I can or can’t afford, but believing that nobody will love me if I don’t have those things.
I only realized what a perverse attitude that is during the depression which followed the breakup. Having been shaped by consumer culture from birth, the most unsettling aspect of depression was the suppression of desire. It was a frighteningly alien feeling to simply not want anything.
Nothing seemed appealing in the least. I couldn’t see value in any of it. I didn’t enjoy any of the stuff that normally makes me happy, and saw only the bad in everything. Stripped of the covetous, materialistic urges that gave my life meaning, I was like a new puppy tearing up the furniture in a fit of terrified confusion because his owner has gone out and he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
I felt pangs of shame and regret when I thought of how hard Diane tried to help me unfuck myself. But also comfort. What a strange cocktail of conflicting emotions. Why should I care whether she’d approve of my feelings, this late in the game? What do I really owe her at this point, given that we’ve long since broken up? Maybe just because she was always a more ethical person.
I was never afraid of disappointing anybody but her. I never gave the smallest fraction of a shit what anybody but Diane thought of me. I could safely dismiss the scorn of strangers, since they didn’t know me, but Diane knows me inside and out.
It’s the biggest single reason why I didn’t cut her out of my life when she dumped me. It’s so much work to build that kind of mutual understanding with another human being, it felt like I’d be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
That’s also why most of my friends are women I dated, often very briefly. They find me too interesting to let escape...but too rough around the edges to remain in love with for longer than a month or so. Then, because I am a pushover and hate to be the bad guy, I stay friends with them even though their friendship is a constant and painful reminder of my own inadequacies.
I don’t regret it, exactly. Those turned out to be some of the most constructive, nourishing friendships of my life. Diane in particular. It’s just, they keep piling up. I’m at fourteen and counting.
More friends is a good thing, surely? But I am only one man, and have a limited reservoir of social energy. Some of them work in the service industry, so they ought to know what uncompensated emotional labor means. They expect it from me, nevertheless.
Not such a bad problem to have, some would say. All these women remained in my life because they care about me...just not quite enough for my liking. It’s like when they place a dozen or so cupcakes around dogs in their final round of obedience school, and the poor dogs can’t eat any of ‘em.
Oh lucky me, each dog must think. How blessed I am to be surrounded by such lovely, fragrant confections. All the while struggling not to visibly tremble with frustration. Then again, look at the size of this vanity mirror!
Look at all these gowns, these cosmetics...even a bottle of capsules purporting to contain tapeworm eggs, for weight loss purposes. I felt a pang of remorse for my uncharitable thoughts earlier. The lady of this manor must’ve worked just as hard and sacrificed just as much to marry as high as she did. No doubt she harbored the same sort of resentment, and understandably so.
What a hell of a thing it is, this culture which puts both men and women on financial treadmills with romantic fulfillment dangled before them, just barely out of reach. When at last they’ve both jumped through all the necessary hoops, surely whatever authentic love was once there must’ve long since drained away.
But then, what’s the alternative? Diane would say it’s socialism and the abolition of the gender binary. Her ideal future is apparently populated by hermaphrodites. What would drive the economy? Men work in order to better themselves and feather the nest, so they can attract women. Women do the same in order to entice men. Each is physiologically different in ways that the other is strongly interested in, to put it clinically. If those differences were erased, what would people work for?
Sexual and romantic fulfillment are the carrots dangled before us as we run in a wheel, printing money for somebody else. Maybe that’s the idea behind abolishing the gender binary, then? To disrupt that arrangement.
My impression is that Diane believes utopia would naturally result from that disruption, rather than rapid regression to a significantly worse standard of living. We don’t only work for our bosses, but for one another. Trading labor to improve one another’s quality of life.
If the desire for material comfort were the only motivation to work, I suspect most would settle for a quality of life much humbler than what the American middle class enjoys. This mansion wasn’t built for pragmatic reasons. It’s function as a shelter is secondary to it’s value as a status symbol.
Nobody actually needs a gazebo. Nobody needs a grandfather clock, a vanity mirror or any of the ostentatious ornamentation I’d so far seen while exploring this place. I studied the vanity mirror more closely, fiddling with the switch to see if I could turn on the seven bulbous lights around the rim. Of course nothing happened. Then I pulled the top drawer out. The rim of the drawer was lined with teeth.
I didn’t even process what I was seeing immediately, it was so unexpected. Once I did, I recoiled from it. The teeth were inset in fleshy pink gums, the same color as the soft tissue lining the entire interior of the drawer. As if that weren’t enough, there was a wide, flat tongue at the bottom.
I backed away, still staring. Then, not wanting to touch it, I nudged the drawer closed with my foot. I didn’t really see that, did I? I stood there for a while, fixated on the drawer. Waiting for something to happen. When it didn’t, I reached for the drawer again.
It opened itself, as if in anticipation, and the tongue extended towards me. Probing blindly, gently pulsating. I gagged, and backed away. In doing so I bumped into one of the upper body mannequins. The shawl draped over it fell to the floor.
I could now see, for the first time, the rib cage and living organs inside of it. The arms raised, rusty metal joints emitting a grinding sound, hands now outstretched as if to grab me. The rest did the same, reaching clumsily for me, trying to snag the edges of my clothing.
Stay Tuned for Part 9!