|OPTIMAL REALITY by Benjamin DeHaan|
If her love isn’t here, then where is it?
Favian sits in his damp basement workspace pondering and poking at the question as his face dances across his fortress of computer screens. The Vision Prull micro prints are almost finished and the diagrams in front of him are like a vast, sprawling neon green mini Metropolis.
He taps his bony cheek bones and rubs back his black, oily unwashed hair. A shower would be nice, but he can’t risk the Prull patch rendering null during the incubation stage.
But nevertheless, he needs air. He knows that the shell, the pink outer layer of the patch that protects the inner acidic layer from heat activation, will do exactly the opposite and dissipate into the blue petri dish solution. The Braber Tech boys can wait a little longer for the prototype. Time to cut the lawn, clear the mind, and be present.
Favian goes up the stairs and opens the basement door. Light pours through and he lifts his hand up to shield himself from the blinding rays. He regrets he had been away on business while Jellanna went ahead and bought their house in Queens on her own with no consultation, no discussion, and most of all, no basement windows.
The lingering sense of disappointment that slowly churns inside him instantly assuages at the sight of the woman cooking at the stove in only black panties and an airy white blouse.
“I know you are just staring at my ass,” she says, and continues to work the egg goop in the fry pan. “You should be quieter if you are going to try and play peepin’ Tom on me.”
“I,” Favian begins, but he is too disgusted. Three days of cold hearted treatment begins to fester in his chest like cancer. He wants to bite back and tell her that her failure as an actress didn’t have to push her to become a poor lingerie designer down in Manhattan, but he is better than her, he is an inventor, he has pride, he has morale. And so, he doesn’t dig in with criticism at the lingerie she wears because of some fray on the elastic liner. The point of everything is to get her back.
The sun blares down on Favian as he sends the mower up and down the lawn in ruler straight rows. He doesn’t remember the last time he did physical work, but he wants to do more after that fight he had with Jellanna’s meathead brother at her family reunion. He ended up screaming that he is a juiced up jock strap dickwad. And a well-deserved one at that.
The worst of it is that after the fight, Favian had a scream fest with Jellanna in the car ride home. She protected her brother and said that it wasn’t so bad that he called Favian a typical tech twat from Silicon Valley. And that he shouldn’t be so sensitive, so hurt by words.
So, he bit back. What was it again? He doesn’t remember clearly but it was something to the effect that, “Okay, if you aren’t hurt by words, then I guess you don’t mind me saying that the lingerie you design looks like they were made for every single street hooker in New York City.”
And that’s how Favian landed himself in the musty old cob web, rat poop plastered basement. Jellanna decided to take the bright and just remodelled second floor abounding with fresh air to herself and after that, every meeting on the first floor felt like this desperate contest to reclaim the wife he lost weeks ago. They are divided, mentally and physically, and it makes Favian’s mind sick.
Jellanna stares at him through the window and then disappears. Maybe she will come out, Favian wonders, and takes off his sweat soaked shirt. He detaches the water bottle from his belt and sprays his chest up and down. This should really make his muscles pop. If she wants strong like her big jackass brother, that’s what she will get. She won’t even be able to blink an eye.
He grips the handle bars on the push mower and flexes every muscle in his body at the sound of the patio door opening. The contest of reclamation continues whether she likes it or not.
She comes out in a different set of promiscuous attire, even slightly sexier than before, and she carries a tray. On the tray a large glass of lemonade sparkles as a handful of ice dances under the sun’s rays. For me? She smiles. Yes!
She really has come around. The sweet nectar is just for Favian. He doesn’t even remember the last time she did something nice for him. It had to have been sometime before their honeymoon in Montego Bay, right about when she got an offer from a horror movie producer to play a dying witch doctor that is burned at the stake in the end.
He shuts the mower off, makes sure to keep his pecs tight, and sprays his chest again while she carefully makes her way down the patio stairs one step at a time. She smiles the whole time as the summer breeze licks at her black hair. Maybe he won’t need to use the Prull after all. She has come full circle.
At least that’s what he thinks until she rolls her eyes upwards and makes her way to the backyard fence in the opposite direction. Favian opens his mouth but the words are like molasses in his throat and he remains silent, and watches.
She sets the tray down on a rock that Favian nearly broke his back carrying from the rental truck last week per her request. She opens the wooden picket fence door, and someone whistles like a horny hound dog from the side of the house.
“Oh honey, you wait just right there,” she says to the mail man stuffing our mailbox, but by the look of his wolfish grin Favian can only imagine him stuffing his wife. She turns to the tray and bends over slowly making sure the mailman gets the best view in the house. Favian can almost hear his slobber pattering the stone walkway. “Now, I don’t want you getting dehydrated out there, Mr. Mail Man,” she says and passes the glass of lemonade to him, with both hands. Jesus.
“Thanks, Jellanna. You know you don’t have to do this.”
“I know,” she says, and begins to curl her hair in her fingers. “But, I want to.”
“Is your husband home?”
He downs the lemonade in three thick gulps which Favian can hear over the neighbours barking dog. He licks the rim of the glass. “Shame.”
“Thanks, Jellanna.” The mail man returns the glass to her tray and beams a smile. “Looking forward to stopping by tomorrow.”
“I’ll wear my latest just for you.”
“You are going to be big, girl.”
The mail man salutes Jellanna and then heads back to the front of the house adjusting the bulge in his crotch. Favian whispers “PO Box” into his smartwatch’s to do list and starts up the mower again. He sweats and his veins are popping. She won’t be able to resist him. He won’t lose to that fucking mail man. Favian’s mind races.
Honey, I love you.
Can’t you see it.
Don’t you see it. Where is your love?
I want to believe in it. I want to know that it’s still out there somewhere.
Don’t make me do what I have to do, what I know I don’t want to do.
It’s the only choice I have now.
The thoughts in his mind come one after the other like buckshot to the forehead. What will ever bring her back to him? What changes does he need to make to their life to get her on her side again? Where did he go wrong in all this after all these years?
She puts a towel around her waist and rocks the try back and forth as she comes around the patio. She looks towards Favian, but her face has, “You don’t have what it takes to please me.” written all over it.
Nevertheless, Favian gives it all he has and flexes every single strand of muscle in his body until he feels blood nearly pouring from his eye ducts. She must give in. It’s been too long. Too long to be separated. Too long to be apart. The ice will freeze thick between them and one day they will never be able to find each other again. He will lose her. He hurts all over, but is glad the sweat hides the tears.
“When are we even going to even see a prototype?” says John Whisker, lead engineer manager at Braber Tech Corp, or in Favian’s eyes, lead “Promoted to the top by licking CEO Tim Braber’s ass for ten years” engineer.
His private lab office buzzes as cooling units keep the Prull patch Petri dishes at optimal synthesis temperatures. After two years of research Favian can visualize the whole nanobot synthesis process at any stage, at any time of the day. Right now, the Prull nanobot’s front feelers slowly dig into the acid layer that will provide the path to the brain stem’s cranial nerves. Thanks to a cooperative development effort with Mormo Technical University, at least the nanobot will be ready for product launch.
“Well, when the hell is it, Favian? Do you think investors like it when we don’t follow through?” He points a fat forefinger at Favian’s chest. “When you don’t follow through?”
John’s hot air over Favian’s shoulder smells of booze rot. He was most likely out all last night trying to impress potential customers with the fossilized, outdated technology that seemed to plague the corporation from before Favian regrettably signed his contract of employment. Favian puts all-nighters in and researches until his eyes are drier than grapes and redder than a stoner, and now he gets the hollow shaft. What a great company to work for.
He remains silent and tries to come up with a swift answer but Jellanna clouds his mind like smoke in a small room and all he can think about is her, and this morning. He was bench lifting fifty pounds on the porch, fifteen sets in. Shirtless as usual. Spray bottle at hand, as usual. She walked out in full work attire and gave a deep sigh. “You are trying too hard. I don’t like it. It’s unnatural.”
She left him right there with a snappy thick bite taken out of his heart.
And now, this superficial “manager” has his dirty hand on Favian’s shoulder as if to stress the importance of his words. “I’m sorry but we are going to have to pull the plug if you don’t do something. Seriously. Furthermore, we will need you to visit the top investors and give a presentation on the countermeasure for the delay and a concrete plan on how you will get this project back on track. Remember, the investors are everything to our new product development. You go next week Monday.”
Yeah, Favian, thinks, because this Braber Tech company doesn’t have enough capital to finance new research by itself, because it hasn’t done anything to bring new innovation to the medical instruments market in decades.
If he were still in elementary school he would have calculated the probability of his fist being able to smash into big mouth’s jaw from where he sat staring into the screen, into the 3D synthesis model animations, but he is too old for that shit, too tired, and there are more important things that need attention. Favian wipes sweat from his face and swivels around in his chair to face his boss and his fumes.
“Please don’t make me go on business again.”
John’s eyebrow raises instantly like an ice fishing flag, fish on.
“My wife is not feeling good. I need to be with her.” He makes everything up. Work is not a priority, generating profit is not a priority. Love is a priority; his wife is a priority. Getting back to the days when their love was true and honest is a priority.
John puts his hands on his hips and rocks his head from side to side.
“You can’t lie to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you can’t fucking lie to me.” He smacks away a pile of data print outs from Favian’s desk to the floor in order to emphasize his point.
“Well, that isn’t gonna speed things up,” Favian says, and begins to pack his things. He packs his lab station. Everything. All the instruments, all the data. All the tools he needs to continue his work, because he will no longer be working here in the lab. He will work from home but not here.
“Where are you going?”
“I can’t concentrate here. I’ll work from home.”
“You gonna file an internal request for that?”
Favian makes his way to the door. He can barely keep his suitcases, bags, and lab cases off the floor, and then he looks over his shoulder, carefully studying the degree in which he pissed his boss off. It doesn’t matter. Only Jellanna matters.
His face is solemn, firm. “No.”
He doesn’t know if he still has a job or not but he continues to work on the Prull project anyways, despite the two hundred incoming calls that he ignores, despite the business trip that approaches.
It is almost ready. It is ready. Favian’s lips nearly tremble off his face when he sees the Nanobot simulation successfully work for the first time. Two years in the making. Two years to see a successful mating.
He keeps replaying the 3D simulation. Tears pour out, tears of joy that have been filtered with purified glory. He can’t pull his eyes away from the glow of his monitor and the dream unfolding. The cranial nerves in the brainstem model are highjacked successfully and sensory functions belong to the Prull nanobot.
Its antenna folds out like a Japanese hand fan, and the Prull declares to its host that endless possibilities, endless dreams, endless realities are waiting.
Favian saves the model, data, and diagrams as six different encryption files on five different cloud sites and adds a six stage biometric password on his tech pads.
Through the night he synthesizes three Prull patches, all with the same optimal reality. Favian second guesses his action, but in the end Jellanna needs to see a version of their life she will regret.
The optimal reality takes days to set up. The day comes and it starts as an argument in the kitchen.
“You want to take me to some park, Pelham… whatever the hell and stay the night in a tent?”
“Pelham Bay Park.”
Jellanna crosses her arms, and Favian struggles to keep his attention at the task. It’s almost three pm and the mail man will be coming soon, and she is in a new set of lingerie that is ninety percent strings and ten percent fish net.
“Give me a chance,” Favian says, getting on bended knee. “Please, honey. I’ll drive. And we’ll come back first thing in the morning.”
Jellanna rolls her eyes. “What about your business trip?”
“How did you…”
She rolls her eyes again giving the “duh” face and shakes her cell phone. “John, or whoever the hell from your work called me like ten times yesterday. If you don’t go on the business trip you might as well start looking for a job.”
“That slime ball.” Favian wonders how the hell the bastard got a hold of his wife and then smacks his forehead. Emergency contact info, dumb ass.
“Well, are you gonna go?”
“What if they fire you?”
“They won’t. Not after they find out about my latest work.”
Jellanna’s eyes seem to glow. Something Favian hasn’t seen in a while. “I will go on your little camping trip. But no work calls, no sudden business trips, no sudden cancellations. I swear if you make me feel bad again… alone again.”
Favian puts his hands together as if he stands at the altar of a temple. “If I screw up, I’ll move out. You can have the house. I won’t bother you anymore.” It’s risky but it’s the only way to get the fish to bite on his lure.
The sound of metal clanking on metal disturbs the awkward silence. It comes from the entrance hallway. Jellanna turns and blocks the view to the front door with her backside. She turns her head, smile cracking thick and wide. “You sure about that?” There is no other way to get her to follow along. High risk, high return. She scoffs, “Can’t wait to have the place to myself. I’ll go.”
Her head faces the front entrance and she makes her way down the hallway like a catwalk model. Favian is entranced by the perfect form and motion, each leg swinging forth like a well-oiled machine.
Favian celebrates with a fist thrust through the summer kitchen air. Yes, he has done it. She will see.
He shoots his head down low, squinting towards the hallway, fighting for a view of the front door.
The mail man’s ugly grin, sparkling white teeth glimmer between Jellanna’s legs. The dog whistles. Favian scrambles the exchange of their words like an encryption device in his mind. It’s okay, he lies to himself. Anyways, Jellanna, you’ll be mine again soon.
The day has come. Favian puts the special paint and brushes into the trunk of their shabby red rusty Toyota Sedan and covers them with a blanket. The sledgehammer is below that. He can’t help but munch, crunch, and pound down his favourite dried nuts and spinach mix as he whistles away, chucking the luggage in next. He doesn’t remember being this happy in a long time.
He pats his pocket as if to tell the Prull patches that they will do well today. They will be fine. They will do great regardless that their brother’s synthesis went haywire and dissipated in the petri bath solution. Two will be enough to glide Jellanna’s heart back to Favian with a perfect soft landing.
Here she comes.
The creak of the front door. Her footsteps. The bag at her side swings gently against her skirt, a skirt that hangs below her knees, modest like she was when they dated in the university, when she had a thing for tech guys. Now she has a thing for the mail man.
Favian smirks at the ridiculousness of it all but then slaps his face and tells his muse to shut the fuck up. It’s time to be serious and carry out the plan.
Jellanna stops next to the passenger door. She sighs. “Well?”
“Right, right. My bad, my bad.”
He opens the door for her. Bad start. Fuck.
They are flying down the highway. Favian eases up on the gas. Peelcast Bridge is just up ahead. It’s under construction and open to local traffic only. It will be perfect.
Favian looks at her. She looks at him. She smiles. Rare. Is today the day that she’ll come to his side? Is today the day that Favian will plant the seed to get answers to the questions? Why did she marry him? Does she truly love him? Was everything for nothing?
He can’t wait. He takes the smile as a signal, a perfect trigger to start off the day. Hot rays from above blast through the sun roof. He gulps thickly, imaginary molasses slowly trickling down his throat. He tracks his Adam’s apple’s up and down motion. He wants to be normal as possible. His inner thigh vibrates, he pinches it. His nose twitches, he wipes it. His ear hair itches, he pulls at it, but it stays planted like persistent thick rooted weeds.
“This isn’t so bad after all,” Jellanna says, and gives the longest, annoyed groan. It scrapes across Favian’s consciousness like gravel. Then, she tops it off with a cherry. “For a fucking hill billy bullshit hick camping trip.”
Favian wants to slap her. He’s reached his limit. Patience is no longer in the dictionary of Favian Badster and he slides his hand into his front pocket and wipes the Prull dispenser. He feels the Prull nanobot ride onto his finger, locked in, ready to go.
“Oh, come on, honey, it’s not that bad,” Favian says, trying to cool down the situation, prep his patient, calm the air, and slide in with ease.
Favian goes all in. He puts his hand on Jellanna’s neck. “It’s going to be great. Just wait.”
She scoffs and swats Favian’s hand off her neck. But it’s too late.
The acidic layer of the Prull patch reacts to Jellanna’s body heat and sinks into her skin. The nanobot follows the acid path to the cranial nerves, paddling deep like a dog in a pool. She feels nothing as they dive in and around sensory nerves. Five seconds pass and Favian’s watch vibrates.
The Prull nanobot has gripped onto her tight and its tail is ready to suck in Favian’s commands.
“Look at me,” Favian says. This is the part where she needs to be totally into him, her attention, her eyes, everything. She turns her head. They synch.
Favian presses the key on his watch and the upload begins. The optimal reality charges forth and neuron signals paint Favian’s masterpiece for Jellanna.
She screams. In Jellanna’s mind a semitruck swerves into their lane as they enter Peelcast Bridge. Favian cranks on the wheel to get out of the way, causing the car to flip over and roll violently. The truck misses them by millimetres. His body is tossed from the car like a rag doll, and his head crushes into the median block. His body then catapults from the side of the bridge and plunges into the cold river below. Originally, he didn’t want to put that into the optimal reality but he needs to make a point. The point that he will not be returning. She must understand this.
The Prull works flawlessly. Jellanna is heaving up and down as the car comes to a metal crushing halt. The Prull puts her to sleep, just as planned, just on time. Meanwhile, Favian can’t shake his smile as he drives carefully, car untouched and pearly, making sure no local traffic comes from both sides of the bridge. He has done it.
He pulls the car up to the side of the bridge. Now they are in the middle of the bridge and it will take fifteen minutes for anyone to reach them. Plenty of time to make the scene.
He opens the trunk and takes out the sledgehammer and two buckets of paint. The car is too pristine. In a matter of minutes, the car is turned into a demolition derby car as Favian slams the sledgehammer into it, one crunching smash after the other.
Next, he takes the two buckets of paint from the trunk and walks a good distance behind the car. He is drunk fatigued already and could really use the blood that he carries in both hands. Instead, he paints the concrete median and the outer wall of the bridge with it. He is impressed as he leans back for a moment to take in the work of his artistry. He looks around. It’s a perfect scene.
He throws the blood buckets and hammer over the bridge and walks back to the car. Jellanna sleeps like a princess.
When Jellanna wakes in the hospital unscathed, her world will be turned upside down. Favian can’t wait to follow her post Prull. The sense of excitement makes his guts want to burst with confetti.
He breaks into a slow jog. And looks back, the car getting smaller in the distance as he tries to control his raspy breathing. He waves. He pumps fists. He is about to finish a marathon. It could take weeks, but it doesn’t matter, Jellanna will be waiting with open arms at the finish line.
Jellanna not having a funeral for Favian makes sense now as her moans cut a slit in Favian’s throat and air cannot find its way to his lungs. He wishes he hadn’t worked up the nerve to play peepin’ Tom in the late night. The mail man and Jellanna exchange kisses as they work their bodies together deep past midnight.
The next night it’s John Whisker. One after the other they come. Each night a new lover. Favian’s stomach fills with flesh eating maggots as he puts his back to the house’s wall and slides down to a sitting position. He has lost. Everything was for nothing.
Two weeks pass and it’s the mail man again. Favian cracks. They are going at it again but with much more passion. Not just casual fun sporty sex, but an emotional, deep connecting kind of sex.
Favian doesn’t want to do it, but letting this continue would go against everything that he has worked so hard for.
The door to the house is open and now he stands at the end of their bed. The mail man is on top, blocking out Jellanna from view. The blankets move up and down.
He pulls the silencer pistol out from his jacket and points it at the commotion under the sheets. He unloads the magazine upon the animals and peppers the bed.
The mail man yells, but it’s not from the barrage of bullets. He has emptied himself.
Favian controls the trembling of the gun with both hands and looks closer at the bed. Jellanna and the mail man are completely fine. There are no holes, no blood, and they still kiss each other deeply.
“Don’t move.” Jellanna’s voice comes from behind him. His body instantly petrifies. “Drop the gun and then face me.”
Favian throws the gun on the bed next to the sleeping couple. He turns slowly, cringing at the thought of a bullet tearing into him.
Jellanna is pointing a silver pistol at Favian. The bathroom door behind her is open. She is crying. Mascara veins across her face. Favian slowly raises his hands. He wants to throw up. “Honey.”
“Don’t fucking honey me!” Her hand trembles. The gun is cocked and it won’t take much squeeze to send the bullet screaming into his brain. “All those months you were gone for that fucking company. I was so alone. All I wanted was to be with you.”
Favian’s heart sinks and everything is clear. He is the bad one in this. He was never there for Jellanna. He never realized how much he was away until now. He was just a ghost. Here for a moment but then gone with the next wisp of wind.
“How did you do all this?” Favian puts one hand on the back of his neck and presses deep into the skin with his forefinger. The tiny internal swell is there. The Prull’s playground where it composes its music. “How did you?”
“John Whisker. I signed everything over to him. All the patents. Everything. He helped me. He helped us.”
At first it feels like Favian has lost everything. All those years of research, all those hours of intense analysis, examination, and animal trials. All those excruciating, mind numbing, mind dumbing executive meetings for nothing.
But, Jellanna sets the gun on the bedroom dresser. She wipes her black tears with the back of her hands and puts herself up against Favian. Her warmth, her love spreads throughout his body like a mother’s blanket and he doesn’t dare to move.