Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writer: Harris Tobias

Crown of Thorns

I must have been a genius when I was my original self but, of course, that was quite a few jumps ago. All I have left of that original me is my memory of the jumper box and the crowns. The me that made them must have been awfully smart. He must have known a lot about neurology, biology, physics and a half a dozen other disciplines but, as fate would have it, the world is not likely to know of this invention.
Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Benjamin Donald Dapp, I think I was Doctor Dapp at one time but who remembers? What I did was build this device that switches minds from one brain to another. I’d been working on it for years and I’m sure it was Nobel Prize winning science but there’s little likelihood that I’ll ever see any reward for my breakthrough. Sometimes it’s best not to experiment on yourself.
The principle of the jumper is simple even if the actual electronics are not. One crown goes on one head and one crown goes on another. A button is pushed and consciousness is switched just like that. No big crackling machinery, no lights dim, not even a hum. The jumper is smaller than a pack of Marlboros and uses regular double A batteries. Pretty neat invention if I do say so myself.
I was so focused on the equipment I never even considered the psychological toll switching minds would have on the individual. When the jumper was ready, my first volunteer was my faithful and loving wife, Myrtle. She trusted me completely. We lay side by side on the bed and put on our crowns and pushed the button together. In an instant, I was Myrtle and she was me. I saw the world through her big blue eyes, I had access to all her memories and, I assume, she had access to all of mine. Almost simultaneously our hands rose to our mouths as our most hidden thoughts and actions were revealed.
I saw Myrtle’s youthful indiscretions, her torrid affair with the milkman, and her frustration at our marriage. Her loneliness and pain while I frittered away our relationship spending more time in the basement than with our daughter, Doreen, who it turned out, had none of my DNA.
Myrtle saw my masturbatory fantasies and addiction to Internet porn. She knew my curious proclivity for sock puppets and my real opinion of her poetry. Needless to say, we switched back as soon as we could. The marriage has never been the same since.
I went back to my workbench and rewired the box adding a few filters to keep deep secrets from rushing in immediately. When it was ready, I was eager to test it out and went next door to my friend and neighbor, Reggie Phelps. Reggie is a good guy, quite a bit older than me but supportive in my work and flattered to be of help. We sat side by side in his living room and put the crowns on our heads. In a second I was Reggie and he was me. It only took an instant to see that I made a terrible mistake. Reggie’s life was a horror show. What was worse was that he wouldn’t switch back. He grabbed up the jumper and the crowns and ran off to my house leaving me stranded in his shoes, his life and his aging body.
Almost immediately his enormous shrew of a wife, Josephine, came home angry at the world and heaping abuse on everyone and everything. I could see that Reggie loathed her and the rest of his life. “What was that weasel Dapp doing here?” Josephine sneered.
“Nothing, dear,” my cowardly answer came out reflexively.
“I don’t trust that creepy little snot. I want you to keep away from him.”
“Oh Ben’s not a bad guy,” I said.
“Like you could judge,” Josephine bore down on me like a freight train. ”Go change your clothes, the Dimmerman’s will be here at three.”
I wanted to get back to my house and get my jumper back but Josephine had spoken and I disobeyed at my peril. Dinner with the Dimmerman’s was excruciating in both its length and mind numbing dullness. I made a mental note never to jump into Dan Dimmerman’s head. Dan was an insurance adjuster with a side interest in algae. When dinner was over Josephine dragged me upstairs and demanded I service her. I found her body revolting but she seemed to enjoy herself saying, “I don’t know what’s gotten in to you, Muffkins, but I like it.”
As soon as I could I slipped out of bed and snuck over to my house. I stole up the steps to find my body in bed with Myrtle. I was immediately consumed with jealousy. I left them sleeping and began searching my house for the jumper. I must have been making more noise than I thought because I heard Myrtle wake up and send me downstairs to investigate. What transpired was an ugly confrontation between Reggie and myself in barely suppressed whispers.
“Where is it?’ I wanted to know. “It’s mine and I want it back.”
“I hid it,” Reggie said, “I’m never going back to that harridan. I like Myrtle. I like your body, I like your life. What’s that old expression about walking a mile in another man’s shoes?”
I was steaming mad. Our voices must have been rising because I heard Myrtle call down the stairs, “Is everything all right honey?”
“Everything’s fine,” we both said together. Then I glared at myself and reached Reggie’s old hands up to strangle my neck.” Reggie simply brushed my attack aside and whispered, “Get out of my house before I call the police.”
“Your house? Why you, you henpecked old fart,” again I lunged for his throat and again he batted me aside. He grabbed my pajamas in a tight fist and pulled my face until we were nose to nose.
“Listen up Dapp, you’re me now and I’m you and nothing’s going to change that. Now be a good little Muffkins and go back to Josephine and leave me alone. Oh and one more thing, what’s this with the sock puppets?”
I was totally humiliated. The next few weeks revealed just how awful a life can get. Josephine was a bully and a sexual tyrant. I felt like one of those exotic fish that are reduced to nothing more than a pair of testicles on the body of an enormous female. In addition to his haranguing wife, Reggie’s grown children hated him and he hated them. Reggie’s only joy came from working in his yard. Digging and weeding along side his friend, Jesus, a laborer dropped off by the lawn service twice a week. I personally never cared for gardening but I soon came to appreciate the respite it gave me and Jesus did seem like a nice guy although our communication was limited by our poor knowledge of each other’s language.
While I planted tulips, I plotted how to get my life back. I kept a close watch on the house. Reggie was having fun, that was obvious. I could see him being a good father to Doreen and a caring husband to Myrtle. I hated his guts and planned my revenge. I waited until Reggie took my family on an outing and my house was empty. I let myself in and ransacked the place looking for the jumper. After hours of searching, I finally found it in the garage under a pile of old Hustler magazines. I was just about to take the equipment back to Reggie’s house when the garage door popped open and there they were. Reggie, Doreen and Myrtle all staring at me stuffing something in my shirt.
Reggie acted outraged and demanded his equipment back. Myrtle hustled Doreen inside to call the police. Reggie attacked me and easily overpowered me, ripping the jumper out of my shirt while sitting on my stomach. He let me up when Myrtle called out to tell him that the police were on their way. Indeed I could hear a siren waling in the distance. In desperation I grabbed a big wrench off the wall and fetched Reggie a mighty blow on his head. He went down like a bag of cement. There was a lot of blood, Doreen fainted, Myrtle screamed, the siren was only a few blocks away. I grabbed the jumper from Reggie’s hands and ran down the street toward his house. What had I done? I might have killed myself or was it Reggie? There was no time to examine the philosophical implications of what I’d done. I had to escape.
As I ran home I saw Jesus weeding the azaleas. I went up to him and pantomimed and gesticulated that I wanted him to put on the crown. “Bueno para los flores (good for the flowers)” I said in my high school Spanish. Good friend that he was, Jesus put on the crown and I did the same. In less time than it takes to tell, I was in Jesus’ head and the cop was coming over to arrest the bewildered guy. Jesus turned out to be a fortunate choice, as he couldn’t really explain that he wasn’t Reggie. The cop cuffed him and put him in the back of the squad car while the poor guy jabbered away in Spanish. They probably thought he was crazy as well as dangerous.
For my part I had a lithe young body, brown skin and a craving for tortillas. Best of all, I was free of Josephine and that hate filled family. It was a nasty thing to do to Jesus but I was sure it would all get straightened out in the end. I went back to weeding and after a while Josephine came out looking for Reggie. She asked me if I’d seen him. It was a real pleasure giving her a big dumb shrug like I didn’t understand a word she was saying.
Jesus’ life was dirty and unpleasant. The lawn service treated him like dirt stealing half his wages because he was illegal. What little he earned he sent most of it back to his extended family in Honduras. The only bright spot in this whole mess was that I had the jumper back and, if my body survived, I might be able to make things right.
I continued working for the lawn service and watching the comings and goings of both families. Josephine hired a lawyer to defend Jesus against the assault charge. She and the hateful children visited him in jail. I even saw her studying Spanish so that she could speak to him. She practiced some phrases on me but this time I really didn’t understand a word she was saying.
Myrtle and Doreen went to the hospital daily to visit the unconscious Reggie. I wanted to know how he was doing so I asked Myrtle in my most heavily accented English, “how Meester Dopp doing?” Myrtle said, “not good,” and burst into tears. I thought about going to the hospital myself and switching back into my own unconscious head. If I had to be a vegetable for the rest of my life then so be it. But before I could formulate a plan of action, fate intervened and I became even further removed from my self.
Fate materialized in the form of the INS. I was arrested in an immigration sweep and taken to a crowded holding cell somewhere. My jumper was taken away and I never saw it again. I was at more of a disadvantage than the ordinary illegal alien as my rudimentary Spanish made me seem especially stupid. I could speak to the immigration lawyers in fluent English but that would only blow my cover. The long and short of it was that I was deported to San Espirito. Honduras. where I was warmly received by Jesus’ family.
So here I sit in my mud hut in San Espirito. I have six children and a host of aging aunts and uncles. We all live together in a single room with a dirt floor and an open fire. We go to mass on Sunday where I fervently pray for a miracle. I work our pitiful plot of land but life is very hard. One bright spot is that my Spanish has improved considerably. I often wonder how my old body is doing. If Reggie regains consciousness, I hope that he and Myrtle have a good life together. As for Jesus, stuck in Reggie’s old body, it has to be a pretty weird scene. If he gets off with good behavior he might enjoy living with Josephine. I don’t expect to see him show up here anytime soon.
As for me, well I am tired and undernourished. I may very well be a genius but there’s no opportunity to use any of my talents here. I suppose there is a moral in this tale someplace and maybe with enough reflection it will come to me. In the meantime there’s corn to plant and a dozen hungry mouths to feed.

© Harris Tobias 2011

Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers. Despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. To date Mr. Tobias has published two detective novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim. In addition he has published short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival. He currently lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

1 comment:

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