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1560 words by Stanley Lieber

Violet's Diary
1 October 1966

It had all crumpled. Violet moved her eyes across the sky, but could not find its edges; the corners of a vast, dirty sheet of paper that canopied the entire city. Fibrous swirls stirred and unrolled before her, contriving illusions of focus. Violet stared silently past the rooftops, ignoring the city and directing her gaze forward into space. Rather, she thought, she would have been staring into space, if not for the endless, sprawling white that inevitably drew one's eye back into the soot. Her mask observed this scene with detachment. On its face, it did not register whether Violet felt one way or the other about the situation. More correctly, about anything at all. The lack of visibility was of personal concern, to be sure; but it was nothing that should mar Violet's appearance to others. The mask was certain of this. After all, Violet had configured the setting herself.

Violet turned away from the window and pointed her face into the central corridor of her family's apartment. A line of green squares tracked her hand as it journeyed from the window back down to her side. Turning in bright arcs, the dots of color followed by half-steps, floating gradually closer to the reflector on the opposite side of her body. Chimes had sounded, there in the room, and Violet knew that she was to answer the door as quickly as possible. Her mother had not yet emerged from her preening room, and her father was still in his bath, probably drinking; or perhaps by now bloodying his hands on the broken pieces of his bourbon glass. She could not slump any further without endangering her balance, and so she straightened herself, careful not to put any undue strain on her stabilizers. Finally, this action prompted her mask to register a minute change in her facial expression. Inside, a joint clicked.

"My back feels like it's been folded into paper airplanes," she muttered flatly into her faceplate.

Presently, between the doorway's mechanical lips, there appeared a familiar, angular-faced woman, who reeked alternately of whiskey and of the orchids that were pinned to her billowing, yellow coat. Violet's grandmother swept into the apartment and at once embarked upon a critique of the child's appearance. She was able to issue a series of disconnected, declarative statements before she was overpowered completely by the rolling contours of her formal wear. Violet giggled. The animation of the old woman's garb was not without its effect. Soon enough, bony hands pushed through the bright folds of cloth and found purchase on Violet's arm. The girl's fingers were studied at length before it was stated authoritatively that she would now turn over her tobacco pouch and put away her pipe. Nicotine, her grandmother said, stains the hands.

When Grandmother fled the seclusion of her estate, which was by now -- quite thankfully -- seldom, she would insist upon stowing a shihtzu puppy, or other such small animal, within the sleeves of her baroque accoutrements. As a matter of course, such an animal was with her today. It nipped wildly at Violet's mask as she leaned in to embrace the old woman around her waist. Violet made no attempt to pull away -- from her grandmother or from the dog. Her mask maintained its aloof composure, and sensors indicated that, beneath the porcelain exterior, Violet's flesh held remarkably close to its default settings as well.

The formal greetings finally concluded, Grandmother seated herself and began smoothing out the creases in her dog's black velvet dress. A spate of frivolous conversation ensued, meaningless, serving only to mark the passage of time and to calm the old woman's nerves until at last she would be reunited with her son.


Brill cream.

A wristwatch. He started being able to make out a lot of what was there, sitting on the bathroom shelf. Paper-white reflected in the mirror, streaming in from the window. It was snowing. It was daylight again. Still?

A buzzer. His face seemed permanently affixed to the bathroom floor. Two or three of his teeth scratched along the tiles and vibrated in sympathy with whatever that racket was, echoing down the hall. A pool of saliva had formed around his chin. Slowly, he came to the realization that the current arrangement of his limbs was uncomfortable.

When his arms didn't work, he shifted attention to his legs. He pushed himself over to the door and noticed that it remained locked from the inside. It was a no-go on getting it to open again. At this point he couldn't even pull his arms up off the floor; much less manipulate a key.

Movement in the hallway flagged his attention, as a whole set of keys (worn externally) brushed the doorknob in passing. It was very quick. Presumably Violet, on her way to the kitchen.

Just then, the remainder of last night's double-malt scotch flickered into view, diffracting the snow-light and catching in his eye. The bottle lay motionless in a blurry field of illumination. An unconvincing square of warmth let in by the bathroom window. He realized now that the odds were narrowing, with regards to his non-functional arms. Oh no, not again. He lunged wildly and tried to chew the words out of his mouth, protesting the locked door, proclaiming his innocence, but instead of the familiar taste of his own lies, all he came up with was a bit of gauze and surgical tape. Fragments still wedged into the space where a molar had been.

He popped several fasteners by artificially expanding his belly and got out of his suspenders and Italian pants. The shirt and vest had become a straight jacket and he had become a suspect under involuntary detention. Flailing around on the mat beneath the sink, he tried to squirm out of them. Finally, down to his underpants, he slid over to the bathtub and pushed himself up, over its lip, into the gaping, porcelain mouth. The water was quite warm, as far as he could tell. The porcelain, cold.

Head upside-down, hanging over the edge of the tub, he could make out a snow drift on the neighbors' roof. He had to stop then and laugh because it looked like the house was wearing a beard.

He had been awake for close to half an hour. It should have taken no more than four seconds (at the outside) for his arms to come back to life, but the scotch was complicating matters. His shoulder gave an inch, and a splinter of pain shot through his elbow, shattered violently at his wrist.

Motor functions had still not returned to his arms.

A pounding came at the door and it was faster than he could sink his bottle into the tub. The soapsuds were mostly dispersed now, traveled behind his legs and back. He realized too late that his glass was still on the sink. None of this would look good to Violet. He hoped it was the boy.

The lock clicked, then turned, and the heavy wooden door swung inward.

Appearing at the foot of the tub was his nine year old son, head poking through a shirt Thomas had struggled to tear out of only moments before. It fit him like a circus tent. The boy was completely oblivious to his father's predicament.

"Dad," he said. "The Vice President will arrive soon."

Son, he thought. But Thomas couldn't yet speak. He was too drunk.

Presently, his wrist began to turn and his hand formed into a fist beneath the water. His grip was so tight that it drew blood from the skin graft stretched around his palm. He could hear some piffle about Redaction Day dinner from a telescreen three rooms away. If his mouth had been working, he would have screamed for them to turn that Godspammed thing down. So loud.

His mother would arrive within the hour, no doubt with her husband in tow. He hadn't even wanted them to know where he lived.

And then the Vice President would come waltzing in. The spamhole.

Now where were his pants.

Right there, his kid was waving his arms around like a shot pigeon and looking as if he had something especially urgent he wanted to say.



He heard a weird grating sound in the left side of his head, followed by a long hiss that seemed to issue from his own mouth. Lateral stimuli?

He blinked then, involuntarily, and his arms fell off, right into the bathtub. He heard the bloop, and then he heard them hit bottom, rolling around underwater. Suds splashed onto the floor and also onto his cleanly pressed pants, which were right where he'd left them, draped over the edge of the sink. He looked around, disgusted. How was he going to get himself out of the tub? His daughter would be pissed.

But he was also suddenly sober. In half a second, he'd come fully awake. Yes, it was not too soon to say he'd hatched himself a Redaction Day plan. The idea burned in his mind, and he thought, seemed to radiate such heat as to change the temperature of the room. Annual budgets would be shattered! Old favors would be called in! He would show no mercy. They would not make a fool of him this year. Things were definitely starting to look up.

"Tommy, get me my phone."

"Sure thing, Pop!"

Thomas, Sr. looked around the room. He fished in his pants pocket and found the other flask.

"Fuck it," he thought, and took another drink.

To be continued...