Death of the Avatar

Author | Lenora Weiss

For the first time in years I could see the veins on leaves and recognize moles on faces, which was worth wearing a patch and completing a regimen of eye drops, except at the end, the doctors decided to find something wrong with me but it didn’t have a recognizable name like cataracts. The problem was they didn’t know what was wrong. Hated that. I’d spent years getting things right, moving around from one job to the next, love affairs, children, divorce, the usual stuff, and after surviving all that, now they wanted to find something wrong with me?

The hospital thought it had something to do with my heart, but why didn’t the doc order an EKG? He said he needed a blood panel. Fuck a blood panel. Vampires sitting behind an oak table with long needles, probing my arm for a juicy vein. I hated needles.

I had no other plans for the day except to feed my cat, Knickers, named by a one-time roommate from Great Britain whose feet were half brown, half white (the cat’s). He’d had earned an MBA at UC Berkeley, then moved back to take a job with Barclay’s leaving me two dozen Darjeeling teabags lying on the kitchen counter.

The tea bags had nothing to do with it. For months, there hadn’t been a drop of rain. Northern California was in the middle of a drought. Outside my window, trees slumped over the pavement, and even worse, ash from wild fires up north cast an eerie glow over everything. It’s like we were caught in a magician’s spell. The sunsets were gorgeous, but that’s not the point. I wanted clouds to open up the same way a three-year-old rips apart wrapping paper on Christmas morning, only in this case, it would be thunder and lightening.

If I arrived at my appointment too late, I’d be sitting in the waiting room for an extra hour thumbing through old copies of National Geographic.

Outside, my neighbor’s dog did its business on a hydrant. One leg raised high in the air, the mutt seemed oblivious, thrilled to take a long piss on a weird piece of metal.

 A friend had been recently diagnosed with malignant polyps; another had broken her hip. Up until cataract surgery I hadn’t gone under the knife, but at any moment, I could get that call from the lab. The doctor had said something about fibrillations and lectured me about not taking care of myself. Back when my husband was alive, none of the doctors said a peep about fibrillations. It used to be all about thrombosis. Certain diseases come and go like designer jeans.

“How busy can you be that you can’t take care of your health?”“Busy answering telemarketing calls.”

The doc wouldn’t believe me and I wasn’t going to explain. I'd been building an avatar for a video game called Top Dog Ramono.

My avatar girl had to be clever enough to go through a bunch of colliding mountains. If she didn’t get squished, then she had to collect gems from slime-toads that were actually people who’ve been turned into creature features by this Lord Grunion who thinks the world is his oyster. The problem is that Grunion’s got an army behind him and every time my spunky avatar drops glowing rubies into the crater of the volcanic colliding mountains, the army comes after her and locks her away, and if she doesn’t have the right key in her pocket that she’d won at an arcade game before reaching the mountains, she could die of hunger—shrivel into a stick of beef jerky. But I can think of worse ways to occupy my time like watching the evening news: shootings, bombing, and politicians clucking their tongues about how terrible everything is.

I’m trying to create a place where I’ve got an even chance. My avatar is getting better at fighting my battles. I named her after my mother and father, Morgan and Rena to become Morena, but she gets all her good looks from me. I combed my hair in the mirror and saw that there were more wrinkles at my eyes and mouth. All this doctor business was f-ing stressing me out.

My husband had excelled at collecting diseases. I always had been the healthy one.

“Why do you always have to be doing something?” he’d say. “What’s the problem about staying at home?” “Why can’t we sometimes go to the movies?”

“We can’t talk there.”

“We never talk to each other.”

“What are we doing right now? What do you call this?”

 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that story plus the parts about his being an alcoholic When you’re somebody’s avatar, you get to know her more than you’d like. It’s something like a Vulcan mind meld. Even when she’s in the bathroom, I can hear her farting and believe me, that’s not fun. She’s getting close to seventy now and can barely make it from the bedroom to the kitchen without stopping, while I’m 29 and have competed in several triathlons, took first place in the Madrid games where the olive trees looked like stumps with black fingernails, which is to say I’m 5 feet 9 and in great physical condition, have long blonde hair that I put up in a ponytail, and learned how to speak Spanish fluently but I already knew Sanskrit from a different memory chip.

Janeen was able to keep up until we got to Level 8. Now it takes days for her to get out of bed and make one move. Says her daughter’s in graduate school and she doesn’t want her to worry. Get this. Her daughter thinks the English guy is still around to pay rent. He was the one who put Top Dog on Janeen’s computer, wanted to show her what he was doing at work.

Janeen had asked him, “Why do you want to leave the United States and work for Barclay’s when you can just tell wonderful stories?”

He’d handed her the usual clap-trap. I don’t worry about money, just about dodging burning embers or getting smashed into toothpicks by Lord Grunion and his minions. But how am I supposed to go head-to-head with Lord Grunion unless Janeen does something? I wish she would download the most current version of Top Dog Ramono. I’d be able to move more quickly. But to be totally honest, keeping her alive is my real mission because if her battery runs down, I’m dead in the water, never mind those smashing mountains. Her casa is my casa. You dig?

 

Doctor said I’m supposed to start my day with a good breakfast. Last visit, my daughter had deposited a ten-pound bag of French roast beans on the prairie. I brewed myself a cup, sliced myself a piece of challah and settled down before I caught the bus, inhaled the steam, the swirl of cream and coffee blending together as my spoon clinked against the side of the mug; the repetitive sound put me in a meditative state the way coffee does in the early morning, stared out the window and took small sips, my finger perched on my lip, placed the mug back down on the oak table and counted the number of blue flowers stenciled along the outside of the mug, one leaf pointing to the next; I thought about all the years I’ve sat drinking coffee before it was time to leave, the clock hollering at me, “You’re late!”

 

I’m running down the side of this mountain, which is volcanic and get my toe stuck on this overhang. In the distance, I see a ghoul running my way, waving his arms and screaming obscenities. I’m trying to free my foot, but I have to be careful. If I lose my balance, I could fall off the cliff to the pool below which is filled with everyone’s lies. Nasty things, they’ll stick to me with suction cups. Then I’ll have to go to the underworld and plead with Lord Grunion, but he’ll want me to parade around in my bra and panties before all those little nincompoopers. If I were a different avatar, I wouldn’t mind, but Janeen didn’t make me into an exhibitionist. So I rock back and forth, thanking my aikido training for helping me not to panic, even though the ghoul’s getting closer. The thing’s got one eye in the middle of his chin and an orange vinyl perm that rises in ridges from his head. If he gets close, he’s going to spit this acidic goo on me that will cost ten of my lives and I’ve only got that many left. So I unzip a ruby from the inner-lining of my collar, just in case, before the ghoul is about to open its stinking mouth, I free my foot and leap to the other side of the mountain. I’m glad I didn’t have to use up one of my rubies to paralyze the thug. The ghoul stands there on his right leg, drooling. I shout obscenities in Russian letting loose with po'shyol 'na hui, basically telling the ghoul to fuck off. The coast is clear. I’m so shook up that I forget what I’m supposed to be doing—that’s right—collecting rubies from the slime-toads so I can get off this mountain and back to my house where a vegetarian dinner awaits on the counter. Sure, I like steak. But I’m not the one who makes the rules. After that close call, I’m craving something to drink. Coffee is all there is. Thank god, the thing has disappeared. I sit down on the rocks, open my sweaty palm and spot the ruby.

I throw the glowing jewel to the ground. “Coffee,” I say. There’s a steaming cup and a thick slice of challah. A ruby seems like a lot for breakfast, but like I say, I don’t make the rules.

 

When I was married, I’d sat at my desk for four months waiting to be transferred to another department, and because none of my superiors exactly knew when that was going to happen and since I no longer belonged to them as a resource who could be counted upon as a full-time equivalent, the best they could do was to ignore me. The truth of the matter is that no one gave a good triplicate form what I did during the day, and this, more than the fact that I had no work to do, came close to corrupting my spirit. I became a desk. Not a real desk, but a piece of furniture quiet with drawers I retreated into where no one could give me the latest gossip about which department was being dismembered or who was on the cut list. I counted the number of push-pins in my stationary tray. I arranged my paper clips so that they faced in the same direction. Sometimes I worked on my computer, but I'd been through the tutorials so many times before that I chose to turn on the screen saver and remain inside my desk. I've always been a person who likes to know how things are made.

Rabbet joints are common enough but it's the fit between two planes of wood that's crucial to a piece—for example, if the wood was originally sanded with several grades of paper, and whether the glue was allowed to set. A handle of one drawer was missing. The handle of another was coming loose, its screw revealing spirals of pink paint.

 

I’m climbing halfway up the side of a slippery glass mountain that is just a one of the many I must ascend before approaching a volcanic range that lingers on the horizon. Luckily for me, I’m carrying a tube of Superglue in my backpack and squirted some on the bottom of my Evolv Shaman climbing shoes that Janeen had outfitted me with earlier in the day. The game is like a capsule that envelops me in four dimensions: past, present, future, and whatever else comes my way.

I reach into the backpack every so often for another pump of Superglue. My shoes are sliding and there’s nothing to hold onto except for an orange and brownish looking branch that is extruded in my direction. I wonder if it’s Janeen or Lord Grunion trying to fuck with my mind. I don’t have time to find out. I hear a terrible squeak as I slide down the glass-facing side of a mountain, grab ahold of the extended pole, and it turns into the beak of a pelican-looking bird that plops me inside its pouch like a mother and we take off.

 

Each day I reviewed the progress I made, moved paper clips closer to the front of the drawer and decided to discard copies of my time sheets. This freed up more room. The push-pins inside the desk stuck out like miniature daggers. I retrieved time slips from the trash and tore them into confetti-size pieces, tossed them to celebrate my New Year. I bestowed membership on a new order where days were not divided into REG hours, a piece of paper that had no meaning other than to name time with days of the week.

I gathered parts of the grid into my hands and released them over my head. They settled around my waist and orbit, a meteor shower. This made it difficult for me to sit in my chair. Hornets whirled around my torso, a Van Allen Belt. I reached for my purse. I wanted to buy a cup of coffee. I arrived back to the cubicle after my coffee break and I saw that someone had swept up the time sheets from the rug to hide my indiscretion.

 

At first I keep my head tucked inside the pelican’s pouch. I may be kick-ass avatar, but I’m not used to flying over water; I’m sweaty stuck inside this bird cage and it smells very fishy, water drips down the front of my lycra top, plus, I feel that we’re losing altitude fast. The bird dives and scoops up a fish inside its bill and plops it next to me. At the risk of being funny, we give each other the fish-eye with a kind of stare that says, “Oh no! You too?” And then it hits me. This pelican actually thinks I’m lunch; I had assumed our flight was part of a rescue mission engineered by Janeen, hoped the pelican was going to land on a rocky shore and let me down gently. I needed to escape. The fish, one of those pretty silver jobs with scales that reflect a pink and blue light, is thrashing around with its tail. I try to jump out of the way and grab a gill to steady myself, like the poor fish isn’t having a tough time enough. I pull myself to standing. Jonah’s story isn’t going to help me out here. No matches and nothing to burn unless I want to smoke the poor fish, so I do what I was born to do—fight. I lean my weight against the bird’s beak, grab ahold of its uppers and lowers and stretch the beak open, but it snaps shut almost rips off my fingers. I search inside my backpack and find tools that I’d collected after reaching Level 8. There’s a hammer and I apply pressure to the bird’s beak that starts zig-zagging in the air. The fish sees an opening and jumps out. I follow and swan-dive into the water.

 

Back in the old days, I was an entrepreneur and did whatever I wanted. Innovated my own meaning, built my own business and encouraged people to call me at work. My voice mail system answered messages perfectly. I was an entrepreneur and listened to my own inner voice. Somewhere there was bliss. I felt lost, left without instruction, trying to find my mother at the amusement park and all I see is the tattooed man and the fat lady, have this really sick feeling in my stomach knowing that I'm going to dissolve the way cotton candy does. I want to be an entrepreneur, but I know we came to the park together and that we're supposed to go home.

Lawrence was always angry. I needed to pick a place where I can dip into the well of the universe and taste water, wonder how so many Chinese women writing from inside the civil service system in the 18th century were shunted from one province to the next because their husbands fell out of favor with a certain official.

Radio countdown to destruction liquid cool underwear duck my head in traffic waited for the red light too long while a driver meandered between lanes, doesn't he know, I swerved, used the blinker, something in the car's back trunk thuds, why didn’t he know? There's a run down my tights, a check I have to write, a phone call to make, and who knows what are we going to eat for dinner?

 

I’m trying to keep up with this perch or flounder or whatever it is because the shiny fish knows its way around this place a whole lot better than I do. Janeen sees the mess I’m in and rescues me with air tanks and fins. I paddle in and out of the seaweed hoping to give the pelican enough time to forget me.

 

For a week I didn't sleep, slowly admitted the truth to myself about a period that would never come, did what I did when I was a nervous girl wondering if this month I had really gone too far, crunched a ball of toilet paper in my hand and rocked the top of my uterus, hoping to strike it rich. I was hungry, smelled out thick barley soup, shiny with rafts of white mushrooms; at every street corner, I wanted to eat. Why am I having a baby. Lawrence and I aren’t getting along. An unanswered question, a need, an urge. This morning when we made love with the sunlight filtered through the white muslin curtain, my nipples were as sensitive as two joysticks And I remembered disengaging for an instant from the circular motion of my hips to introduce him to the baby, my baby-girl all grown up now and studying for a degree in business. I don’t want to go to the doctor, I’m afraid of those tests, afraid that Lord Grunion has caught up with me. Isn’t that crazy? A seventy-year-old woman scared of being alone to face the blank walls, no pictures, no photographs, the foundation crumbling. I can’t get up from the table. My flowery coffee cup drops the floor.

I can’t get up. I’m telling her to move. I’m drowning. The fish is laughing. Fuck.


About the Author | Lenora Weiss is enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts Program at San Francisco State University. Her poetry has been published in many journals including Maple Leaf Review, Kindred, San Francisco Peace and Hope, Cactus Heart, Ghost Town, Poetica, Carbon Culture, BlinkInk, The Portland Review, La Más Tequila Review, Digital Americana, The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Nimrod International Journal, Copper Nickel, The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Feminist Studies in Religion, and Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal. Her books include Cutting Down the Last Tree on Easter Island (West End Press, 2012) and Two Places (Kelsay Books, 2014). Her blog resides at www.lenoreweiss.com.