The Feast of Love and Joy
by Oscar Deadwood
forum: The Feast of Love and Joy
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

......... ....... ..... ..  

The Feast of Love and Joy


       The phone rings and Bill winces once and automatically pulls his hand out of the waistband of his pants, sweatpants riddled with stains less than distinctive, stains less than honorable. Stains not to be mentioned.

       Fat pants, he calls them.

       The phone rings and he starts to swing his feet off of the coffee table, but thinks better of it, and remembers, remembers the stack of unopened bills that came in today's mail.

       And yesterday's mail.

       But maybe it's work, maybe they're calling him back, maybe things are picking up, maybe the place is falling apart without him.

       And he plans ahead: shave, shower, maybe a haircut, maybe a load of laundry.

       But if it's work, they'll leave a message and he grabs another slice of pizza from the partially opened box that is placed haphazardly on the coffee table, the box teetering on a stack of magazines.

       Magazines that should be hidden, really, in case someone comes over.

       In case a girl comes over.

       But that won't happen. Guys unemployed with fat pants riddled with stains don't have girls over. Besides, there are girls in the magazines on his coffee table. Lots of girls, their faces riddled with anguished pleasure.

       That's what Bill likes, though he doesn't know it, he likes the anguished pleasure, the anguished pleasure glowing from the pages.

       And no one will come over until tomorrow when his mother will arrive for her weekly foray into his apartment to clean and do his laundry and bring a check.

       A check to supplement his unemployment.

       The phone rings and Bill wishes for caller ID; he must be the only dude on the planet… without caller ID.

       The phone rings and one more ring the machine will pick it up, the machine will answer and electronic Bill will say, "Hello… Hello… Hello?" a pregnant pause "Oh, I forgot, I'm not here, leave a message."

       And he will laugh at that, again, taking a bite of pizza, taking another swallow of the fifth beer of his six-pack.

       His favorites - pizza and beer - and he tells himself, he told himself, "Shit, I can't afford pizza and beer."

       But he can't help himself, there's a game on TV today, a big game and one can't watch a big game without pizza and beer.

       Except he doesn't watch much of the game, the remote control mirroring his attention - short, shallow, fleeting - his hand always caressing the up button, the down button, his focus on the game long enough to take in the score, long enough to focus on the cheerleaders who only remain in the camera for a moment, long enough to see their faces.

       Anguished pleasure. He sees their faces of anguished pleasure.

       The phone stops ringing, and no message is left.

       Which means it was a bill collector, another bill collector. Another bullet dodged.

       More pizza. More beer.

       And his one hand relaxes in the waistband of his fat pants whilst the fingertips of his other hand dance lightly on the face of the remote control and he has a sort of rhythm to his surfing.

       He knows the channels where the girls are, where the women are.

       He knows where to find the faces of anguished pleasure.

       He takes in all the shopping channels and pauses long enough to see if they're selling women's clothing, to see if there are models twirling underneath so much track lighting, and then there's all the music channels and the news channels.

       Let's face it, there are no ugly women broadcasting the news.

       And now, he's found a Spanish channel, and the phone rings.

       He winces on the first ring, his hand coming out of his pants.

       His feet twitch on the second ring.

       He relaxes on the third.

       He swallows tepid beer on the fourth.

       And laughs at his electronic voice on the fifth.

       His attention returns to the television. He flips through the channels in rapid fire, deciding which channel has the prettiest girls, which channel deserves his attention the most, for the moment, anyway.

       The order: The shopping channel, the news channel, an infomercial with women in spandex, another with women playing with makeup.

       And finally, it's decided, back to the Spanish channel, and it's some soap opera. It looks just like an American soap opera except all the men have dark hair and mustaches and the woman are fuller figured with dark skin and dark eyes and the women are bigger on top, and their asses are bigger.

       And that's not a bad thing, he decides, bigger asses.

       He gets lost in a scene, inside some mansion in Mexico or Argentina or Venezuela. Bill can't tell where and he doesn't care, he's fallen in love for an instant with a woman in lingerie only vaguely conservative. She is sprawled on the couch and talking on the phone.

       And her face is anguished, in a pleasurable sort of way.

       Bill forgets his pizza, forgets his beer.

       He gets lost in her face.

       His hand reaches deeper in his fat pants, gets deeper as the woman's long and dyed blonde hair comes into his focus.

       And then his screen goes blank.

       And Bill says, "Shit", and then he says, "Fuck," and he wonders when he last paid the cable bill, the one bill he made sure he paid.

       He can't live without cable, he can't live without the shopping channels, the news channels, the video channels, on some nights the weather channel.

       And he can't live without his new favorite: the Spanish channel.

       He picks up the remote as he sits upright for the first time in hours and days. He presses the up and down buttons in a forceful way, but nothing happens, the screen remains blank.

       Maybe he should have answered the phone.

       But he paid the cable bill, he can swear, and he starts to rise from the couch, starts to wander through the cluttered living room floor, starts to make his way into the kitchen and sift through all those unopened envelopes piled on the kitchen table, maybe he forgot just this once. Maybe…

       And then a voice emerges from the speaker of his television, a smallish television on top of what would be considered a nightstand.

       But for Bill it's an entertainment center and bookcase: DVD's are in the top drawer, and his magazines are in the bottom drawer.

       "Excuse me, Mr. William Williams?" a voice out of the television asks.

       Bill halts his rise; his buttocks drift back to the indent in his couch.

       His stained couch.

       Bill rubs his head. "Shit," he tells himself.

       It's only been five beers. Not even five. So what the fuck?

       "Pardon me, and I am sure you must be confused, but I must congratulate you," and the voice is Indian, just like every other bill collector who ever calls.

       "You are the first recipient of a call over the television. Congratulations, Mr. Williams!"

       "Thanks, I guess," Bill replies, reaching for the sixth beer that he has at the ready underneath the coffee table.

       "You're very very welcome, Mr. Williams, and how are you today?"

       "Fine, fine," Bill replies.

       "Yes, well, those of us at BankCardAmerika would like to wish you good evening, and we were wondering if you knew you were past due on your BankCardAmerika account?"

       "Uh, yeah, but I lost my job, so I haven't had a lot of money lately, you know, I gotta eat."

       "Yes, yes of course, of course Mr. Williams, we at BankCardAmerika understand, we would be very happy to work with you," the voice of the television is enthusiastic in a singsong sort of way, the Indian accent rising with each adverb and with each adjective.

       "We have been trying to contact you," the voice continues. "We have sent you notices, first, second and third!"

       "Sorry," Bill replies, too drunk in a drowsy sort of way to reply any more.

       "No problem, no problem," the voice replies, and it is indeed a very helpful voice, "and please, Mr. Williams, call me Jay."


       "Yes, Jay."

       "No problem, J."

       "And yes, Mr. Williams, our records show that your account balance is five thousand dollars, and you were to send a minimum payment last month of 250 dollars. And now you owe a minimum payment of 500 dollars, along with a late fee, which brings your new minimum payment to 600 dollars. Can you mail it today?"

       "I-- I don't have any money. I mean, my unemployment barely covers rent and groceries (he deliberately doesn't mention his mother's benevolence), I was working when I used that credit card, I mean, I thought I could cover it."

       "Yes, yes, I see here on your application that you were a forklift operator, what happened to your job, Mr. Williams?"

       Bill is too drunk to lie, even though the truth is painful, and damn, he was the best forklift operator in the whole warehouse, he could make the sharpest turn without the tines of the lift touching a thing…

       "I got replaced by a robot…." Bill explains.

       "Oh yes, yes, I heard about that, the new RoboLifts, very economical and simple, I hear."

       Bill shrugs his shoulders, drinks more beer, flips open the pizza box, which is now empty.

       "But Mr. Williams, I took an RFID scan of your apartment, you know, via your cable box, and it seems like you've made some purchases that you don't need. It seems like you are not as broke as you make yourself out to be."


       "Ah, yes, Radio Frequency Identification. Your cable box has allowed us to read all the chips on your purchases, bye bye bar codes! You have very, very many magazines, Mr. Williams, and six-packs of beer, surely you could pay us some of the money you owe, rather than indulge yourself, I mean, why so many magazines?"

       Bill is flabbergasted and beyond confused.

       "And cable television? And we know you watch a lot of television, Mr. Williams, perhaps you should forego cable, and perhaps pay us?"

       "But, but…" panic forms in Bill's stomach, panic rises and seizes his heart, and the taste of panic rises in his throat.

       "But we are not unreasonable, Mr. Williams, no, no, not at all! We here at BankCardAmerika are your friends! We can make some arrangement, I mean, after all, a man has needs, right, Mr. Williams?"

       Bill nods and says nothing as the panic starts to recede.

       "Very well, Mr. Williams, very well. So you say you have no money?"

       "Not much, just what's in my wallet," and Bill goes to reach for his wallet, buried somewhere on top of his coffee table.

       "Keep your folding money, Mr. Williams, keep your folding money. I do have another suggestion, in lieu of the six hundred dollars you owe us, an arrangement that will bridge you until the next payment of 250 dollars is due. What do you say? It will be much easier, if you take my suggestion, rather than sending our agents to your apartment to seize your property."

       Bill mulls this over. He really doesn't have enough money to put a dent in his debt, and he doesn't really want anyone in his apartment, even though there isn't much in the way of property to seize.

       Just his television and magazines.

       "Sure," Bill says, "whatever."

       "Very good, Mr. Williams, very good. Now all anyone ever wants is a piece of you, that's all anyone ever really wants, so I suggest we take a piece of you, just a piece of your insides, you will hardly notice it's gone. It's very, very easy to do."

       "What part of my insides?" and Bill is wary.

       "A small part," Jay replies, "a very, very small part, a part you don't really use, and it will probably make your life easier, you know, not having this part inside you."

       Bill decides it sounds easy enough. "Okay," he says, "whatta I gotta do?"

       "Oh, very, very, very easy, Mr. Williams!" And Jay sounds more gleeful, more triumphant. "You must take your shirt off and stand in front of the television, no more than a foot away."

       Bill pulls off his t-shirt, a gray rag with little holes forming in the armpits and at the waist. He rises from the couch as he drops the t-shirt on the coffee table. He is uncomfortable with his near nakedness, uncomfortable with his flaccid and bare and pimply torso covered with wispy hairs, uncomfortable with his stomach that suffers from too much gravity.

       "Let me know when you're ready, Mr. Williams."

       Bill stands in front of the television, the top of the screen level with his sternum.

       "Okay, now what?"

       "Ah, Mr. William Williams, just stare at the screen… This will only take a moment, and then you can continue on with your evening, I know you are a very, very busy man, Mr. Williams."

       A humming noise erupts from the cable box and the screen shows a kaleidoscope of colors, countless colors that glow and swirl in a seemingly random pattern.

       And Bill can feel little fingers feeling around his heart.

       The little fingers scurry across his skin and he can feel them enter the cavity of his chest and he can feel them massage his head and enter his skull.

       The little fingers are almost ticklish, but not quite.

       The little and invisible fingers are almost painful, but not quite.

       The humming increases in volume and the colors glow and swirl faster and faster as the fingers scurry in his brain and in his chest. Bill feels dizzy and he can feel the panic start to rise again.

       After all, he thinks, what the hell is this?

       And then, after a moment, the humming stops and the screen goes blank.

       "Thank you, Mr. Williams. BankCardAmerika looks forward to your continued patronage. Good night."

       And the television returns to the Spanish channel; the credits of the same soap opera scroll down the screen.

       Bill returns to the couch, donning his t-shirt as he sits down.

       What did they take? He does feel a difference, but he can't put his finger on it, he just feels sort of… empty.

* * *

       His mother comes over the next day, bringing a grocery sack full of milk and frozen dinners and apples.

       He'll eat the frozen dinners but ignore the apples and the milk.

       And he notices a difference as soon as his mother takes off her coat and begins her furious rush through his apartment.

       She pretends not to notice what sort of magazines he reads as she stacks them neatly on the coffee table, she pretends not to be disappointed as she opens up a garbage bag and fills it quickly with the discarded trash scattered across the floor.

       Bill is always glad to see his mother, but not this time; she seems different, like a different person, like someone he's seen before but doesn't really know.

       It's like he doesn't love her.

       She spends an hour tidying and vacuuming and scrubbing his place and leaves him with a check and a peck on the cheek.

       "Love you," she says as Bill stares at the television, viewing a channel off of his usual menu.

       Bill says nothing, even though "I love you too" has been an automatic response for all of his thirty-three years.

       "Something wrong?" his mother asks as she puts on her coat, her face looking saddened and concerned.

       Bill has always been a disappointment, but a loving disappointment.

       Bill shrugs his shoulders and stares at the television.

       "Well, once you get a job and get on your feet, you'll feel better. See you soon," and she leaves the apartment and Bill feels himself relax the instant she's gone.

       He grabs the phone, orders a pizza and melts into the couch.

       His stained couch.

       A couch that smells like sweat and dirty feet and something else.

       He picks up the remote and starts searching.

       The shopping channels, the music channels, the news channels and the Spanish channel.

       He settles on the news, he settles on a middle-aged newscaster, her face masked with surgery and make-up and shrouded with shoulder length blonde hair.

       And she does indeed have news to tell.

       She tells of the latest business, the latest venture entered by a variety of companies - bio-medical and financial.

       The selling of emotions.

       Have a child who is suddenly indifferent to his or her parents? We have love for sale. Have a spouse who is no longer attracted to the other spouse? We have lust for sale. Are you a salesman who has lost your competitive edge? We have greed for sale.

       And the list goes on.

       Individuals can sell their emotions to one of these companies, and, in turn, the companies find clients for those emotions.

       And the price is very, very dear.

       Bill is too angry to listen to the rest of the story, too angry to hear the therefore and the why and the how. He doesn't care how the process works.

       He knows J took his love, took his love and sold it.

       He walks to the refrigerator in his bare feet; the soles callused and dirty. He grabs a beer and returns to the couch and his anger disappears.

       After all, he wasn't using his love anyway.

* * *

       Another month passes. Bill ignores his mail and tosses it unopened onto the kitchen table, the pile of envelopes forming a misshapen pyramid that spills onto the floor.

       There are bills in that pile of mail, and he sees the BankCardAmerika logo on several of the envelopes.

       He knows he should figure out a way to pay on that card. Maybe he could ask his mother, but he decides to wait another day, and then another, and then another.

       He's busy, watching television, finding the faces of girls, reading his magazines.

       And then his television turns blank again, and a voice with an Indian accent interrupts his evening.

       It's not Jay this time.

       It's VJ.

       And the same banter ensues. Mr. William Williams is informed that he is past due on his account, and would he like to make another arrangement?

       Bill sighs and agrees and removes his shirt and readies himself for the invisible fingers that will almost hurt and almost tickle.

       He asks, "What are you taking this time?"

       "Whatever you have the most of," Vijay replies.

* * *

       Another month passes and Bill's mother is so hurt by his indifference towards her that she stops coming over to clean the apartment and stops providing him with his weekly check.

       There is no more money for pizza and beer.

       But he ignores his rent and buys pizza and beer anyway, and his fat pants are no longer quite so comfortable.

       And the fat pants have become unrecognizable, their original color camouflaged by a thousand different stains.

       He would go and find a job, any job, but BankCardAmerika took his pride.

       He doesn't care.

       He spends his days and nights in front of the television, mindlessly fingering the remote that is so worn that the numbers and letters are no longer legible.

       But Bill doesn't need to read the remote, he is intimate with every function and feature and number.
And again, a Saturday night and the screen becomes blank and his old friend Jay interrupts his surfing.

       "Mr. William Williams, good evening!"

       "Hello, J."

       "It seems that you no longer have a telephone."

       "Nope, can't afford it."

       "And you are late on your payment again…"

       "Yes, sorry about that, things have been a bit tight lately," and he thinks about his mother. He is angry with his mother, for the moment, anyway; those checks sure did make things easier.

       "Well, would you like to take another suggestion?"

       "Don't bother, I know the routine," and Bill rips off his t-shirt, not caring about his near nakedness, not caring that his stomach now hangs well below the waistband of his fat pants.

       "Ah… Mr. Williams, may I make another suggestion?"

       "Shoot," Bill says, standing less than a foot away from the television.

       "There is probably no way that you will ever pay off your BankCardAmerika account, is there?"

       "Prob'ly not."

       "Well, how about we take all of your insides, you know the insides that you don't really need, and wipe off your debt. What do you say?"

       "All of it, all five thousand dollars?"

       "Yes, all of it, and how fortunate for you, Mr. Williams!"

       Bill remembers that emotions are going for about five thousand dollars apiece, and lust is going for well more than that.

       And now BankCardAmerika wants to take all of his emotions, countless emotions, for just five thousand dollars.

       "It's a deal," Bill says, and the fingers go to work in an instant.

       This time, they tickle.

       This time, they're painful.

* * *

       Gone, gone, they're all gone.

       And Bill watches television, but the glowing female faces do nothing for him, the pizza and beer satisfy no hunger, even though a hunger still exists. He flips through magazines out of habit, out of hope, hoping something will stir.

       There is no joy in anything; there is pleasure in nothing.

       BankCardAmerika left him feeling only one thing.




copyright 2006 Oscar Deadwood.

Oscar Deadwood:
I have had some non-SF stories appear in Wanderings and Darkervision, and hope to have my first novel "The Trinity" released by Silverthought Press soon.