New Fiction: “Object Erotica” by Dolan Morgan

—for Steve Oristaglio

There is a foosball table in a New Jersey summer home. There is a grand piano in the parlor of a Boston brownstone.

They would like to see each other but are far apart. Hundreds of miles. Impossible miles, endless terrain. What can these objects make of America’s highway system? Its strip malls, greens, and row houses? Neither can move, or see, or talk. And so they cannot find each other, touch each other, or feel each other. They cannot drive all morning across state lines, and they cannot bang on some door in the middle of a long night. Even if they could find each other, they have no hands, no eyes, no mouths. There is no hope for them.

But still this foosball table loves its grand piano, and this grand piano loves its foosball table, however far away. Theirs is a doomed love, of course, but all love is doomed in its own way—because people too are held apart from each other by space and time, in one fashion or another and sooner or later—and so the love between a foosball table and grand piano is perhaps even purer for its unabashed impossibility. Nothing can ever really happen to anyone, but for some there’s even less.

Or: To love is to test and then affirm the insurmountable space that exists between us, and finally to seek in each other’s hearts a shared asylum from this unendurable data. The foosball table and grand piano can have no illusions about their physical limits—they start where we all will end, inert and without recourse—and so their rush to asylum is that much more passionate, that much more explosive.

Or, to be more concise, the grand piano and foosball table, at a loss and unable ever to meet, resolve to send each other filthy notes, depraved and graphic letters.

But how? How can these inanimate objects, separated by such great distance, send any note, let alone tales of strings spread wide by twisting handles, of felted hammers smeared in heavy grease along rods and distressed bearings? Men with legs in the air, balls across ivory, restless for a lacquered finish?

It is a little known fact that many objects have access to a vast network of communication, not unlike the Internet.

As a kind of cursory explanation of this technology, consider a short story by the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem. In it, a hermetic scientist has cultivated a new kind of organism, a blob-like intelligence that he keeps in a tank. It has no traditional senses or means of interacting with the world. Through a series of tests and experiments, the scientist fosters the organism’s ability to react to stimuli, to solve problems. In fact, the scientist has two of these new organisms, and is working on them simultaneously. Yet, in time, he comes to note that they are communicating with one another. He cannot discern what they are saying, but one undoubtedly speaks while the other listens. First in electrical impulses, then through shifts in temperature. One after another, the scientist tries to eliminate their attempts to communicate, perhaps out of interest in the purity of his experiment, or perhaps from a vindictiveness borne of his own loneliness, until he stumbles upon a distressing fact. A visitor informs the scientist that whenever he nears one of the organisms’ tanks, the scientist’s hands unconsciously tap upon the glass. First on the one, and then again on the other. He himself has become the conduit of their messages, the paper on which they write.

Likewise, the limit of an object’s world is not its immediate surroundings, but in fact the travel routes of those people who encounter that object. If a table is used by a family, then that table has access and can relay ideas to every place and thing that the family encounters—at their jobs, in school, in town, the homes of friends and lovers. There is a notion that dogs and cats have domesticated people as much as we have them, and so it is with the things we own and use. They too use us, to carry their messages and fulfill their wishes. People are a kind of Internet for useless things.

There is a foosball table in a New Jersey summer home. There is a grand piano in the parlor of a Boston brownstone. Neither can move, or see, or talk. And so they cannot find each other, touch each other, or feel each other. They cannot drive all morning across state lines, and they cannot bang on some door in the middle of a long night. Even if they could find each other, they have no hands, no eyes, no mouths. I think you know what I mean. There is no hope for them. Theirs is a doomed love, of course, but all love is doomed in its own way. Nothing can ever really happen to anyone, but for some that’s enough. It has to be enough.

 

 

***

Dolan Morgan is a writer and illustrator living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He is the author of two story collections: That’s When the Knives Come Down (A|P, 2014) and Insignificana (CCM, 2016). His work can be found in The Believer, at Electric Literature‘s Recommended Reading, on NPR, in a comic series on The Rumpus, and in the trash. Look for him online at dolanmorgan.com and on twitter, @dolanmorgan. 

Image: etsy.com

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