Tens of thousands of data centers feed a spiraling multitude of web sites. Rows of servers spread over millions of square feet in warehouses which were once fields of crops, pumpkins shining orange against the black soil. Me and my brothers roamed the fields, had pumpkin fights with the failed ones, tried to be careful not to smash any good ones. Most of the time, we succeeded.

I still live in the old farmhouse, though there is no land around it, not even enough for a garden. The data centers run at max round the clock. I hear the data buzz like bee hives, growl like packs of animals. I smell it burning. I get up in the middle of the night and drink orange juice, but I can’t get the taste of data out of my throat. Nobody thinks of people like me when they turn on their computers. My hearing is too acute to live here, and I don’t even hunt anymore. I don’t do a lot of things anymore.

My body smells bad, I believe. It keeps me from finding a partner, but without a partner I don’t feel the need for hygiene. I have a feeling of deep resistance to taking my clothes off and stepping into the enslaved rain of a tiled telephone booth. Rain inside a building designed to keep rain out feels wrong. If I lived next door to a waterfall, my life would be different. There are places like that in the Upper Peninsula, a 3/2 with attached garage and adjoining waterfall, but I don’t live anywhere near there. I couldn’t afford a house in those neighborhoods. They wouldn’t let me use food stamps there. They wouldn’t let me talk to their children.

Children give me a sense of possibility, but they wrinkle their noses at me. They whisper to each other that I smell like shit. I can hear them. I have very good hearing. I hear things others can’t. They hurt my feelings.

I took a creative writing class and wrote an autobiographical sketch, though I claimed it wasn’t. I claimed it was about someone else, someone who had shit stains in the seam of his jeans. The teacher said that it was a detail that had the power of veracity. I wasn’t sure what that meant.

I insisted on smoking in the classroom. All the other students were against me. They all washed behind their ears with ivory soap, took naps when they were told, and wore helmets when they rode their bikes.

The Dean came and kicked me out. I could tell he was afraid of me. I could tell he was disgusted by my smell.

If I had a girlfriend, I’d be careful about my hygiene. I’d spray my feet with athlete’s foot spray. I’d go to the drug store and shoplift cans of it. I’d shave my face and watch the whiskers flee down the drain. I’d use bay rum by the half-gallon. I’d put it on my clean-shaven face and the back of my neck.

If I had a partner, I’d feel a need for hygiene, because there’d be a real woman I’d want to please and not offend. But until then my body smells repugnant, I believe, and there’s really nothing I can do about it.

Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois  has had over fifteen-hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for numerous prizes and was awarded the 2017 Booranga Writers’ Centre (Australia) Prize for Fiction. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and as a print edition. To read more of his work, Google Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois. He lives in Denver, Colorado, USA.

(tagged: fiction, flash fiction)

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