You are reading Fiddleblack #18
He was up in the air, coasting from Burlington to Philadelphia to Detroit. Previously he’d sat in a tiny diner drinking coffee and watching the Green Mountain Boys, the Vermont national guardsmen, soap and spray a plane. There was American know-how in those men. Perhaps that was a training exercise for them, but to him, sitting with a coffee in the diner, in an airport in Vermont—such a definitionally horrible environment born quaint, shellacked an honest green—empty, he was touched inside in a an unretrievable way. It was still possible to find a Norman Rockwell scene in America, unblemished by media and public relations and popular dissent. There were strange places you had to look, ones that existed for seconds, but the thing still breathed.
The stewardess to whom he’d smiled when stepping on the plane returned his smile when she passed him. Her smile was a bit crooked, her nose short but pointed to angle, her face upward like she had a pretty, soft beak. She stood at the front of the plane and began to give safety instructions. In every seat every person was head-down, on a device of some sort. He watched the stewardess begin by signaling the aisles.
Toothing was an interesting urban legend when it was one. The idea, perhaps the horror, that one could take a bluetooth-enabled device and connect instantly with a stranger in a public place to fuck anonymously. The horror, he thought, if one did feel it, was more complex than the suggestion that society might devolve into violent orgy. For instance, there had been and still is no physical barrier between instant, anonymous connection. It’s a power available to any woman and to the profoundly charismatic and to celebrities. Yet there is a deep unsettling when one considers how the whole idea reveals that distinction between can and cannot. This is the first layer.
A second layer of horror exists in the suggestion that given the intended ease-of-use, this new undercurrent of sexual activity will join the insects in its time and place of execution: everywhere and all of the time. No one will want anyone to know, at least at first. Can I fuck you? Yes. Meet me: behind the/in the/outside of. There wouldn’t be feature-prohibitive time to traditionally prepare space—that would counter the primary function. It would, in turn, suggest the reality of the second layer’s very horror to the participant.
A third layer lies in adoption. Will users simply be beautiful people connecting to fuck more easily than before? Perhaps at first, but the horror of the first layer would begin to resound. Wait a minute. I can do this too. To counter the potential for horror, there would be a reclaiming of “beautiful” and “sexy” to the point that the concept of layer two, the potential for prevalence or even encounter, might itself resound and, thus, toothing’s factor of interest.
He too turned his head to his lap and thumbed through the emergency, afraid he would be noticed for being the only one watching her.
It was probably something someone had joked about before: what to do if someone tries to hijack the airplane—where are those instructions in the booklet. Less likely, he thought it might seem to the average flier, was there a news story about a water landing. There were stories about planes dropping dead out of the sky into water, yet nary was there one onto. And the popular news narratives, at least in the US for what seemed like a long while, had streaks of Islamic this and extremist that boarding planes or trying to board planes or planning to board planes in the wake of 9/11 only to be foiled somehow by an unknown force, not himself nor these other lumps, but victorious and consistently so that a rough outline—a “do’s and dont’s” on disabling the box-cutter wielding anti-infidel might be a tiny comfort to some.
The stewardess would be dead in an instant. Throat-cut and dropped to the shitty floor for awe’s sake, perhaps still stuck with tech executive semen from her toothing session in the family restroom from the last connecting stop.
Imagine heaven for the anti-infidel and for the infidel and wonder what is the in-between. Are the two heavens adjoining? Adjacent at least? Are closeted gay anti-infidels disappointed, and are closeted gay infidels disappointed? There was no question to him that the below, the Hell of Christian concept, was where he was and this flight was simply a shape in the haze, shift or two of interrupted sleep.
Bird-beak’s nose wrinkled for a second like Samantha from Bewitched and he started to feel an erection take form.
A Cosmopolitan he took from the newsstand said that it’s a parent’s job to manage their children’s sexual drives during the first few years of development. He was sure he hadn’t had that, whatever it meant. The early stages, oral and anal, were attractive. If he’d started to suck his thumb right then, she might stop her instructions. The invisible guy who stops anti-infidels and infidels alike, the sky marshal, he might step in. The anal stage, discovery of piss and shit, that was compelling. He’d spent a few summer days in Columbus reading a Dennis Cooper novel once. That was a great time. He got a haircut from an pear-smelling Asian girl who shaved his head all around but left this very short sort of mane in the middle. It was a good haircut to have in a warm breeze. Maybe that was the most free he had ever been as an American. He ate a piece of pizza in the shade of an empty parking garage. He watched a feral cat trot across High Street at the worst time of day. He saw an ugly belly dancer busking the sidewalk for money that he thought she didn’t deserve, and he bought a bottle of good rum and drank it from a Coke bottle and masturbated onto a mirror in a bookstore bathroom using some sweatpants he stole from a basket at the laundromat. It was fun to walk and read at the same time and it probably looked so studious to other people.
He actually knew a guy who had a lot of Norman Rockwell things in his house except he wasn’t a guy and it wasn’t his house. They were kids and his mom had this sitting room with The Saturday Evening Post and Popular Science and even Boy’s Life, which he’d always found strange. What do you do in that room—repose? You do not meditate because Norman Rockwell wouldn’t have approved of that. There was also a cold wooden floor with tacks starting to come up and a sooty fireplace and a window that looked out into a backyard that abutted someone else’s house.
She moved on to the seatbelt demonstration, pulling it on and clasping it and tugging to show there was little slack. She wasn’t thin, not fat either. Probably nice, he figured. He studied the slight shape of her belly and imagined behind it the womb. In a rain gutter on a cemetery administrative building across from a strip club right near the airport in Detroit he had a planer knife he’d sharpened a lot and fitted with a crude handle he made from a moose femur he found on a hike with this missing guy Nathan’s dog. If you keep one knife in one place and another knife in a different place, then you have two knives that you can mail back and forth once you get your system right. You kind of have to do something different with a planer knife because it’s pretty unique. It cannot pierce or puncture.
She probably couldn’t strip, he figured. Stripping was less about hotness and more about perceived depth of personality and one’s physical ability. You definitely had to move. Her personality was sort of gruff in this demonstration. She was nice when he got on, and first impressions do sometimes count for everything. Now that he thought that through, maybe a first impression was enough to sell a customer on a lap dance or at least bottle service. For a kind of simpleton, alcohol can really help fudge the rest of that personality process.
The Green Mountain Boys had probably finished their work by now. He bet to himself that they had to draw straws in some way to decide who had to work a Saturday just to clean a plane when the weather was already nice and the plane was probably not even going to fly. That’s good old American know-how. You have to be consistent and you must do the work.
The odd reality of toothing is that, while it was a hoax, it was now true. Like science-fiction to science fact, only the field was technology. With Tinder he could narrow someone down pretty quickly. He wasn’t bad looking. Getting older, he always reminded himself when he ran at night and got very quizzical about his self-perception, but he did have a good solid chin.
Elias Marsten is a lifelong Midwesterner, writer and hobbyist hacker. He briefly attended classes in the Ohio State University’s creative writing program as an academic auditor.