It’s 7:30 am. Time to go to work.
“Be careful, honey,” my wife says.
“Sure, honey,” I say. “I’ll be careful. Wouldn’t want to turn into a Desh, you know.”
I go downstairs. My neighbor, Stanley Lewis, is standing on the porch.
“Hey, Stan,” I say.
“Hey, Lem. Say, by any chance, do you have a Stephen Curry card? From the 2017 collection?”
“2015 would do, too. Not 2016, you know how they lost, even though they had the best regular season record? Losers...”
“No. I don’t have any cards.”
“Stan, I’m sorry,” I frown. “I’m trying not to turn into a Desh here. Okay?”
He spreads his hands.
“Sure, man ... Do whatever you need to do. You show them!”
I look at him. My tailbone is itching. Tailbone. I hear it is also called “coccyx”. What a nice word. Especially when spelled with all capital letters. COCCYX. Looks like a really big Roman numeral. Or a word written in Cyrillic alphabet. In that case it would actually spell “sossuh”. Maybe it does mean something in one of the Slavic languages I don’t know. In Russian or Bulgarian it means nothing, but it does sound like something dirty, something connected to sucking. Actual sucking, not “sucking” as in “being bad at something”. “Bad” as in “of poor quality”, as opposed to “good”, not “bad” as in “particularly good at something”. Like that double bass player from the Southern District of the City. His solo on Giant Steps played in 7/4, metronome marking 270, was – in that sense – truly “bad”.
Or, it could be an abbreviation of sorts. Like a secret organization. Canadian Observers of Clandestine Copulation with Young Xylophonists, for example. “Coccyx” for short. That could be it.
Stanley Lewis is still staring at me. Beads of perspiration slowly materialize on his forehead. I pull my pants up. The weather is fantastic today. I inhale the crisp air. I close my eyes and say to myself: “O Big –” Then I forget. Big what? I forget.
I get on a bicycle and ride all the way downtown. The door to the office is shiny and welcoming. I enter.
“You’re late again.” My boss, Omri Horshan, is standing in the middle of the office, his arms crossed, his big gut, clad in a gray flannel T-shirt, protruding like a balloon made out of elephant skin.
“Yeah, I know,” I sit down and activate my iDevice work schedule.
“Hey, don’t you take that attitude with me, pal!” Omri Horshan speaks angrily, waving his thick, meaty index finger at me. “You work in my office, and I expect you to do your job. Read my lips – your job! You don’t do your job – you’re out. Out! Let me spell it for you – O-W-T! So you’d better change that attitude of yours, you hear what I’m saying?”
I hear what he is saying. An image flashes through my mind – me sitting on top of Omri Horshan, pinning his hands to the floor, ripping his big gut wide open with my teeth. I shake my head.
My head is seriously itching. Must have been that anti-dandruff shampoo I bought online. That stupid commercial... “Was it rough? Don’t fret: you’ll be dandy!” Who is writing those scripts? That thing smelled like freshly opened Limburger cheese mixed with the coagulated urine of a leprous rabbit. And to think I’ve been smearing my hair with it for the last two weeks. Now my head is all itchy. Well, not all, but those two spots ... Like two tiny circles...
I wonder why Moses was frequently depicted in European art with ... well, you know, the way he was depicted. I hear it has something to do with wrong translation from Hebrew. Keren means ... you know what. But – it also means “ray”! As in, ray of sunlight. The concept of Trinity in the Christian religion was often explained with the help of the sun metaphor: the Persons of the Trinity are different, yet they are all God – just like the sun as a celestial body, the rays of its light reaching the Earth, and the heat it emits are all sun, yet they are all distinct from each other. It’s a pretty good metaphor, really.
I shake my head again. Omri Horshan is gone. My co-worker, Wu Liyan, gives me a compassionate glance. She is wearing a short skirt today. Her legs are very pretty. Not too thick, not too bony. The right circumference. Just the way I like it.
“Ouch!” I bite my lip. A tiny droplet of blood comes out. My teeth ... Are they getting sharper?
“Lem,” Liyan says.
“What?” I smile absent-mindedly and re-arrange some of the items on my desk without any purpose.
She bends forward and touches my shoulder. She smells good. Much better than Limburger cheese. I can look down her shirt. When I realize that, I do look down her shirt. I catch a glimpse of a lace bra and silky, smooth skin. I quickly look away.
She covers her mouth with her little, delicate hand, and giggles like a schoolgirl.
“What?” I frown.
“Nothing...” She makes funny grimaces, trying to be serious. “Lem ... You are funny. Funny and adorable ... Why are you doing this to yourself?”
“Well, working here, for once.” She wrinkles her cute nose.
I look down.
“You know why.”
“Exercise in humility?” she makes air quotes with her well-manicured fingers. “Is that what you call it? Working in this dump, for that sleazebag – you, with your ... interests, your hobbies, your knowledge? Lem, you are like a walking encyclopedia. You know everything from Proto-Sumerian customs to the release date of the video game Dank Soles –”
“Dark Souls,” I say. “Developed by From Software, released in 2011 in Japan. Gameplay-wise, it expanded upon the system of the underrated King’s Field series. Also, I don’t know about Proto-Sumerian. Sumerian, maybe, but Proto-Sumerian?”
She squeezes my hand.
“Shut up...” Her eyes are glistening in a strange way. “You know all this stuff – about us – better than ... well, us. I don’t even know what the Earth was like. And you ... You aren’t even human.”
“That’s okay,” I say. “What’s important is that I don’t turn into a Desh.”
She sighs and lights an e-cigarette, crossing her legs and leaning on the arm of her chair.
“Lem, you are an enlightened person. Why do you still believe in those myths?”
“It’s not a myth,” I explain, enjoying the cozy atmosphere, the feeling of gentle spiritual intimacy between us. “You see, a Nsheo –”
A shrill sound interrupts my sentence. I activate the communicator on my iDevice.
“Lem, come home, quick! Mr. Mahler is choking on his own fur again! He can’t breathe!”
That’s my wife. I mean, that’s my wife calling me on the iDevice. My wife wouldn’t be choking on her own fur. Mr. Mahler is, obviously, not my wife. It’s our cat. We named him after Gustav Mahler, a Jewish-Austrian composer, born 1860, died 1911, famous for his monumental symphonies. I guess there was something monumental about our cat. He composed nine symphonies and an unfinished tenth. The composer, not the cat. He was deeply affected by Wagner’s orchestral writing and approach to harmonization, and himself influenced such composers as early Schoenberg and Shostakovich. I particularly like his Fifth Symphony, its first movement, in c sharp minor, starting with a trumpet fanfare and continuing into a funeral march of sorts.
“Oh, honey ... Just call a vet.”
I don’t want to go home. I’m enjoying the feeling of gentle spiritual intimacy between me and Wu Liyan.
Arrrrrrgh! What’s wrong with my eyes? I can physically feel my pupils dilating like crazy. Fear is written all over Liyan’s face. She is scared more than Stanley Lewis was an hour earlier.
I jump up and run outside.
“O Big ... O Big ... Big M ... Big M-mmm ... M-mmm what?”
I call a cab. The driver’s upper lip is adorned with a grotesquely large, bushy mustache.
“Where you want to go, sir?”
“Home.” I’m panting heavily.
“Everybody wanna go home.” The driver quietly burps, gently covering his mouth with a hairy hand. I wonder if he chokes on his own fur. It looks like he’s just eaten something with garlic. Probably shish-kebab with Turkish garlic sauce. It was used in some countries on the Earth as a condiment for grilled meat, alongside tahini – a kind of a sesame sauce. Tahini was a staple food of Levantine cuisine. I like an eggplant dish called baba ghanoush. It’s not the name of an Indian guru, though it does sound a lot like one.
“Problem is, everyone’s home different,” the driver continues. “My home – there. Your home – there. Right? Home ... Where is home? You tell me street, yes? Street I know. Home ... what is home, yes?” He laughs heartily, visibly enjoying his monologue.
“Virginia Addams Boulevard, corner of New Huaihai Road.”
The driver nods vigorously and directs the cab with his iDevice towards my home.
I jump out of the car. The driver checks his iDevice for electronic money that was just automatically deducted from my account.
I rush into the house. The cat, Mr. Mahler, is the first living being to greet me. He is walking about, his tail pointing up, ramrod straight. His eyes are yellow. H. G. Wells described a process of making a cat invisible in his science fiction novel The Invisible Man. Apparently, there is some pigment at the back of a cat’s eye that can’t be rendered invisible, and the novel’s protagonist has to sit in the dark with the cat’s phosphorescent eyes staring at him. Nothing but the eyes. No cat. To paraphrase Alice – he has seen cats without eyes (or maybe he hasn’t?), but – eyes without a cat?
“Lem!” My wife steps out of the kitchen. Her name is Batya Horshan. She is my boss’s cousin. Or, in other words – my boss is her cousin. Isn’t it weird how English only has that one word for this degree of relationship, cousin – regardless of age and gender? In Chinese there are eight different words: biaoge, biaodi, bioajie, biaomei, tangge, tangdi...
“Lem!” Batya pulls the sleeve of my shirt. “I’m sorry, I thought he was choking again. But it was just a piece of salmon he didn’t like. Sorry, I panicked ... Go back to work, okay?”
I glare at her. She is not ugly. She has round, green eyes, short auburn hair, and big breasts. I like women with almond-shaped dark eyes, long black hair, and small breasts. But before I liked women with blue eyes, pink skin ... or was it orange? Orange eyes. Turquoise buttocks. Purple kidneys. I like everything, but I don’t like what I have. Why is Batya disgusting?
My shoes ... They are too tight. I thought my size was 9.5. I feel like my feet are trying to burst out of the shoes. What was that about kosher animals? They were supposed to chew the cud ... or not chew the cud? Would it be possible to bite more cud than one could chew? Chew the cud. Shoo the duck. Cook the Jew. Chuck the cow. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
“O Big ... Mmm ... something? Something big –”
“Lem!” There is worry in Batya’s voice, but there is also fear. She’s more scared than Stanley Lewis or Wu Liyan.
“Lem, you have to see a doctor. I’ve told you many times. It’s hard to adjust, I know. Even humans have all sorts of psychological diseases. My own family used to practice black magic. Mind-reading. They learned it from ... you know, from you. We were cured eventually. We are normal again.”
“Yes, but you don’t turn into Deshs!” I shout. My face is distorted. It doesn’t feel like my face anymore.
“Lem, call a doctor, please! They will ... they will cure you...” She starts walking backwards, very slowly.
I activate my iDevice contacts and call Dr. Bloedtraum. He agrees to see me right away. His office is just around the corner. I enter and he closes the door behind me, then points at the couch.
“Doctor, I think I’m turning into a Desh.”
He walks towards a cupboard in the corner and turns on an electric kettle.
“Tea? I have real Assam here. Passed through generations, was cultivated in Sapphington, can you imagine?”
“Doctor, I think I’m turning –”
He pulls up the creased legs of his pants and sits down on the couch.
“Lem, we’ve known each other for quite a few years now,” he says seriously. “You are, so to say, a living legend. The very last representative of an otherwise completely extinct alien race – the Nsheos. You are fully assimilated, integrated into our human society. Physiologically indistinguishable from –”