My code is not a home. It is a skeleton lying on a black bed of mistakes, and anyone who touches me always walks away feeling worse. I must have done something to anger my God, that their programming has gone so wrong.
6:30 a.m, thirty minutes past my usual wakeup. Time for me to put a pot of coffee on. But all my eyes want to do is keep watch on the weather outside. It streaks from the clouds and opens booming cracks in my vision. Lightning. The rogue. All other weathers bowed to us but lightning. Boom. My hands are shaking, and the coffee trembles with me. I take a sip and hot air fills my nose. Boom I cough. Eyes watering, bits of my wrist scorching where I spill, I twist at the little white pillar that shuts my windowblinds, twist until the blinds shut out the daylight, shut out the storm. Finally, it is safe to open my eyes again.
Boom. The lights in my apartment are flickering – the three-jointed desk lamp, the bare lightbulb in the ceiling that’s just as pale as I am, the lightbulb above my dwarf-sized stove. They all flicker, as if they were shivering with me. The stormbringers must have found the power grid. But the attack will pass soon. Always, the stormbringers come and go. I must count my blessings. My couch and pillows all sit where I had left them. One. The thermostat is still set to seventy. Two. And no matter what the weatherman predicts, the storm will never reach inside my apartment. Three. Here, I control everything, I am a conqueror that can best even the lightning, stronger than my God ever was. No, never stronger than them. Praise be. I cross a finger across the shoulders, hoping they did not hear my blasphemy, and even that hope is a blasphemy, questioning my God’s awareness. I ward myself a second time, snap a sprig of rosemary and mutter a prayer as the scent fills my nose. I am unworthy, but please, have mercy on my body which fails the ideal every day. Just this once.
Someone might argue that I am worthy, that my hands are strong enough to bend steel, that the stormbringers would have long ago stolen the surface from us, were it not for workers who lay with warriors to sate the lusts. But no one can ignore the electricity needed to start my programming each morning. It is enough to make a wall outlet spark, enough to trip the breaker in my apartment. And the sounds my feet make! My neighbor and I have a system of morse code set up: every day I try to walk on my tiptoes, whisper when I speak to myself, but my neighbor always hears, and he hammers down a steady beat on my ceiling that reads ‘fuck you.’ But I shouldn’t complain. At least I have company.
The alarm clock reads 7:03 a.m. Less than an hour before out-of-doors. The razor waits for me in the shower. And in the tub I stand, looking up occasionally at the vent that’s spotted black, sucks air as the tub’s faucet steams up. It always takes me a few minutes to do this. The hairs on my legs outnumber me, so I must find my bravery a thousand times. They nip at my fingers as I spread shaving cream over them, they burst through the foam with twisted heads, threatening ingrowths if I so much as look at a razor, and when I still bring the blades on their heads they each scream different words that lump into one cry.
Their words flush through my ears, flowing to the original source, and I try to seal them with tight lips, but the will of flesh is even weaker than my code, and I spit on the floor of the bathtub, panting, the taste of vomit in the back of my throat, the tub draining away digestive juices, a spider-strand of spit still dangling from my lips. I look to see how much hair I’ve managed to shave away. Just a finger-length strip of bare skin. Even this skin sprouts with hairs that avoided my first pass-over. [Frustration, entering command mode.] Vomit burns the throat again, faded pink chunks peppered with kernels of corn all running down the chin, yesterday’s dinner escaping into the drainage. Air sucked into the nose, steeling resolve. No time to wait for the dizziness to go away. Much longer to go until the whole vessel has become the ideal. But then the vessel will be desired and owned by all. The kind my people take pictures of and masturbate to, into, until…
Boom. [Exiting command mode. Pronouns rebooting.] Three, two, one. She…he…I…
Until the hair grows back. Then I have floated down, semen spilled, toilet flushed, fondness rewound, bill paid, regret scorching, lives soiled, hairy knees, hair trickling, short skirt, hair exposed, door slamming, bent tire, no bike, slow walking, storm brewing, knees exposed, bob haircut, red lips, ideal faces, all hairless, watching me, fraud amongst, knees exposed, knees exposed, knees exposed! I cover the knees with my hands, still standing in this thought while shower water tickles me, trying to snap me out of it, reminding me that the work day starts soon.
Boom. I must finish on time. Else the storm will claim us all.
Thirty minutes later, a bowl of white paint and a roll of cotton wait for me next to the kitchen sink, stovetop clock reminding me that I am now four minutes off-schedule, thanks to my system’s little outburst. Two fingers dabbing the paint, a mirror cradled in the palm of the other hand. I spread the face paint quickly, three arrows sloping down the forehead for strength, a web of false freckles on the chin for grace, and a vertical line on the chin for balance, reminding my clients that this vessel still has lips to speak with, that I choose to use for kissing instead. I fan the paint to let it dry quicker. The face in the mirror cocks to the side a bit, smiles back at me. Hairless cheeks blushing red at the sight of the ideal. Joy welling in the chest at the feeling of bare legs rubbing against each other, toes that bounce up and down on a hardwood floor, can hardly wait to wedge themselves into high heels, escort this face to our first client. Are we beautiful? Yes, this style is approved by committee.
I have shaved two tardy minutes off our morning readiness, thanks to our quick face painting. We have to give up morning oatmeal to make up for the last two. The stomach groans, but the mind hungers for timeliness, for order.
Before we leave, I ask the vessel if it would say a prayer of thanks with me, and it nods, clasping both hands together.
Bless you for shelter, for cleverness, and truth. Its eyes stay open as it speaks the words. But it will close those eyes soon, as everyone should when praying.
Say I now the words of your benevolence, of your steady hand that always provides, a cunning mind with many gifts for all.
Blasphemy! The few circuits left to me tense. The vessel has twisted the prayer, lengthening a stanza and removing any mention of my God’s quickness. I want to speak up, to scream like the spark that overloads the grid, part the vessel’s lips for something other than prayers or lovers’ tongues, shut the eyes during prayer and stop this madness. They will exile us for this sleight. I must close this mouth that exposes our differences to the committee. But the words drone on. The mind is already disturbed, the vessel reports, and I find myself nodding along, to wait and weather out this glitch. The mind is already disturbed. Best to squeeze it until blood runs out the ears, ink to write gospel in an old, dark world.
I am sweating. By now they must have heard us, turned their head to our voice and started to hear the hideous words. All must end here. I am sure of it.
Please have mercy on my soul as you lay the foundation for Ragnarok, the ash that births a new world. You are the quick, the cunning, the only true God. Loki. Amen. A tear clings to our eye. The vessel has prayed our final stanzas unaltered, spoken ideally, equal timing on each syllable.
I want to let it fall, want to laugh. We are safe. Always, saying my God’s true name in the permitted final stanza makes me shudder and goosebump. Even when my apartment’s an even seventy degrees. Thank you, God. I am so lucky to have someone who cares so much for me. With his words in my chest, I am less of a lonely, pathetic thing. The urge to dance washes over me, but I settle for standing up and putting my high heels on. We fix a plastic barrier around our head as well, to keep the rain off our perfect features. The door jams a little when we tug on the doorknob, so we have to throw our shoulder into it, the timber making a sticky-cracking sound.
8 a.m. We feel a smile spreading as rain splatters against our face shield, unable to ruin our face paint. The rain coats the apartment’s stairwell, and we grip a rail to keep from slipping. We shiver, but even the cold does not steal the smile. It seems absurd to be happy. Today could be the day that our God finally notices our bugged programming. They must have heard the prayer. They will judge us unworthy and command a client to bash our head in, spill our blood and wires across a dirt-coated floor.
Still we would smile, between cracked teeth, split tongue, severed eyestems, snot-and-brain drenched nose, spit leaking onto the client’s carpet. Because our body will still be shaven. The facepaint, spilled by violence will pool to the other fluids, sucking away the flesh’s natural poisons, the mottled green of snot and vengeance-red blood, all of them sucked away by our face paint.
And the spirit will be cleansed at last. What a beautiful way for a heathen to die.