From the Subtle Sci-fi archive…
Premise: Emotions and intentions are physically manifested.
The black rubber curtains pulled back – luminous Perspex floor lit by ultra violet light – lava walls boiling bright yellow eggs of wax into mobile tears gliding through blue oil. A single performer picked out by crystal light. The audience intake breath in excitement. Lady X wears simple clothes emphasising her naturally white skin – face, shoulders, arms, hands, stomach, legs are exposed. A high definition screen enlarges every pore. Her eyes close and head raises – the performance begins.
A low hum from the orchestra – a pale blue perspiration appears on Lady X’s forehead – milky, misty Sistine Blue droplets. A xylophone cuts like zest through the soupy ambience; vivid orange streaks present themselves on the dorsum of the performer’s nose, the blue forming a translucent rivulet down the philtrum. Not too fast or slow to the time of the music the building blue droplets spill over the lips. A sudden change in tempo and Indian Red tears emerge from the edges of closed eyes, slowly meeting and mixing with the orange. A vivid fire brick red presents under the hairline. This secretion is a thick syrup and builds around the hairs before suddenly streaking a spider web of sticky tendrils across the performer’s neutral face.
Blithe B was mesmerised, but retained a slightly awkward feeling in the theatre setting. She broke the spell and looked around her. A sea of ecstatic lime green faces stared intently ahead, the theatre smelled of lemongrass-euphoria. She slowly turned to Demure T. His face was also covered in the happy light green vernix. There were also slight pools of amber spotting across the sides of his temples – euphoria and lust. Demure T was obviously experiencing lust for Lady X or felt generally aroused by the situation. Blithe B understood, both men and women in the audience exhibited similar signs, but she felt some remorse. They had had sex for the first time the night before and though she felt she had tried everything to make it right, the green on Demure T’s face had not been so vivid nor the amber so plentiful.
Demure T suddenly noticed she was looking at him and realised in a moment what she had noticed. A light red fluff, like a penicillium mold, sprouted out of his cheek. He quickly took a pad from his pocket and wiped the whole lot away. He gave her a coy look. She slowly nodded to apologise for interrupting the experience – smiled as if to say that they both knew the relationship would get better.
Behind Demure T, Blithe B suddenly noticed that attendants were also distracted from the performance and were moving towards someone exhibiting an unusual amount of anger. That the anger was pushing through a surface layer of moss green oil that suggested an attempt on the person’s part to suppress ill intentions. Of course it might be nothing more than the person simply having something on their mind, daydreaming through a range of remote feelings. That was generally considered rude. Or it might be that the person suffered from some kind of emotional dysfunction. Anyway they would be gently removed; security was always high when Lady X played.
“Let’s get out of here”, Demure T suddenly whispered. Blithe B was surprised by his blank countenance and by the fact he suddenly wanted to go. They had won a prize to be here and might never get the opportunity again. She spotted purple foam emerging around his eyes, a sign of his uncertainty. On noticing this she quickly consented to leaving at the first pause in the performance, when Lady X would be spray cleaned behind a pop up plastic curtain, they left. Walking through the luminous ornate interiors the couple remained silent, drinking in the splendour of the psycho-plastic-architecture.
“What’s wrong?” Blithe B appealed outside.
“I’m not sure.” Blithe B could see Demure T’s face was still clear from secretions, he was obviously having a difficulty committing to a manifest-thought-feeling. Suddenly he gushed with a sweet smelling creamy lubricant forming under his nose. He continued, “I don’t like that atmosphere, the celebration of beauty and feeling in that way, it makes people feel bad about themselves. You know, when you’re like us, like struggling, busy, bothered, frantic, well, you just can’t find the poise to pull off that kind of heightened feeling-glue.”
“I’m sorry I got so wrapped up in the performance, I feel guilty about it. But, you know, most-times I’m just bad at showing my feelings fully. It’s not that the experience of something isn’t great, it is – it was – I just feel distracted.”
“But you weren’t distracted from connecting with Lady X.” As Blythe B said this she could tell from the slight warmth of her forehead that she was composed. Powder greys highlighted the creases in her forehead. Demure T held up his red hands and nodded thanks to the gentleness of Blythe B’s reproach.
The grand opera house had a large astral blue and alabaster neo classical facade that gave way quickly to a rough brick cubes around the trade entrances. Blythe B and Demure T suddenly felt transported from a world of eternity and glamour to the guttural shod of the city’s underbelly. It came with some sense of relief. A beggar sat in an alleyway and appealed for money. Years of anger and self abuse had grown into hard coral-like structures across his face. His left eye was actually obscured by a brick red protrusion growing from the top edge of his eye socket. Demure T looked away.
A number of old people ended up warped by some solid growth or another. For an older generation there was an art to fostering the calcification of emotions to reflect a life of good intent. But for a younger generation it was starting to become apparent that a greater degree of emotional flexibility was desirable; mercury-like intentions are better equipped for survival within a molten economic system. It was becoming the norm for people to have only minimal enduring secretions.
Blythe B had recently found some soft white orbs behind her ear. Her mother said they were a result of being anxious about the future. Blyth wasn’t sure. She had tried shaving them off, but they were densely fibrous and seemed to contain nerve endings. Demure T had said he liked them, but then Blyth B felt that was a result of him being preoccupied with one of his own enduring manifestations.
About 2 months ago a bump had risen on Demure T’s stomach. 2 weeks later it came away at one edge to reveal a furry interior, like an odd pocket. It was noticeably pinker inside and tender; the mould and mildew-like substances lining the pocket had a slightly unpleasant piquant smell. Demure T didn’t know what it was and refused to think of it as a reflection of some ugly part of his psyche or emotional landscape. Unlike the hard recalcitrant growths of older people it was possible it might simply disappear when something in his mental or physical habits changed, so he didn’t worry about it too much. Blyth B didn’t dare say this, but she found it slightly erotic.
Deciding to keep the night out alive the couple headed to a bar called The Phoenix. Outside, the bouncers exhibited the usual signs of objective-aggression. A thick black-blue tar substance hung under their nostrils to become a kind of finger moustache. Luminous yellow spots presented themselves across the scalp.
“They’re kind of as good as Lady X aren’t they?” Blyth B joked. But there was truth in the humour. Bouncers had to train hard to maintain such solid and stable states.
As they passed close, to head in to the bar, Blyth B noted the bouncer’s shirt collars and jacket shoulders. They were potted with little holes where the acidic luminous secretions had eroded the fabric. She guessed they couldn’t afford new shirts every week like the ushers at the theatre (though the ushers went in for a more subtle emotional suite).
“I don’t know how they don’t have to scratch it off,” Demure T said once out of hearing range at the bar. Anger always itched, often leading to more anger. Comedians often made fun of this. Annoying someone, frustrating them, inflicted an actualising damage. Being annoying could be considered a crime under certain circumstances.
The bar was bubbling with conversation, a range of manifest-emotion states vexing any one reading of the place. Yet at the same time there was a relaxed feeling in the bar that wouldn’t be present in the polite mingling after the performance at the theatre. People seemed comfortable with the ambiguity of their own emotional states without need to satisfy any particular expectations.
Some people fixed on a TV screen. They were unified not only by the light thrown by the screen but also by similar physical reactions. Each person’s skin had gone glossy and made mirrored areas where the skin was close to bone. They looked on empathetically at the screen. News footage showed the debris left after an earthquake in India, apartment blocks and commercial districts reduced to a set of grey concrete mounds broken only by bent steel trusses.
The news footage cut to a picture of a woman holding her dead child. Her grief had become a slate-like eruption on the right side of her head, a hard edged disfigurement that would stay with her for life. Pieces, like a shattered egg shell, still clung to the child’s skin, her last manifest emotion, a failed attempt at self-protection. The mother may choose to keep a piece of the shell as a memento, though the memories evoked by it would no doubt cause her disfigurement to increase.
Demure T glanced at the screen, while Blyth B was unable to see from her position in the queue. He tried not to focus on the tragic scene, but it evoked for him a book he had of photographs marking the last century. One image always came back to him, one of a woman who had lost her child in war zone and thought his body lost forever. Her feelings had been so powerful that an effigy of the child had grown out of her chest. The short description in the book even said that the effigy had moved around like the child for a few moments before setting. The woman was eventually asphyxiated by the hard glass-like likeness.
That night Blithe B and Demure T would meet their friends. Knowingly asked about how things were going, Demure T would produce a manifest-emotion no one had seen before, creating a short silence among the group. Blithe B and Demure T would look back on that moment and many more and conclude that what their relationship gave them was not a chance to find heightened emotional states, but to find emotional states they had not known to exist before. Both would pursue the arts, which they believed could help to keep manifest-emotions flexible, exploring possibilities against the threat – they both perceived – of calcification. In two years time, they would win tickets to see Lady X again. They would choose not to go.