Heartworld – Kit Hodge

I discovered Heartworld a few weeks after moving out of my friend’s bedroom and into my friend’s closet to work on my dissertation, which was titled “On Limpid Morphisms of Somber Schemes.” Though the entire thing was nothing more than a description of my friend concealed within a tumoral sprawl of notation, the closet, from which her face morphed into a smirking looming moon, her hand a silky tarantula scampering over my head to disappear after having placed a bowl of food among the scattered journal articles and monographs, was the ideal work environment, that is the ideal living space, since within the nest I’d constructed from articles of my friend’s clothing plucked like downy drooping petals from their hangers my swollen pupils could sink like inverted embers into the lush kernel of contempt for actuality.

Before I entered Heartworld, I thought my friend might be something absolute, at least in terms of the spectrum of her possibilities as a weapon. Diffusing throughout the day in a flurry of pollen, she coalesced now and again by the window, in a doorway, blotting through the stuffing of our lives to congeal into a razor sharp enough to contradict the existence of suffering. The altars we’d erected to one another accumulated into a subterranea which we cultivated with mechanical calm and compulsion; in those chutes and atria, we found a prospect unobstructed by the malice of vitality. I thought the two of us had woven touch into a mellific wing, but in a new environment it took only minutes for my natural baseness to resurface.

It was clear though that even in Heartworld my friend, who was my only friend, would track me down. When we met she was 23 and I was 14; since then we’d never been apart. There was a park near my parents’ house—since childhood I’d dreamt of becoming a subsymbolic engineer, and when I finished my homework a few hours before sunrise I often walked over, using the moonlight to wash out my mental cloaca. She was there on the slope with her legs folded up, staring off across the pond, a glass pool cut from the shifting alabaster of the grove. At that time she hadn’t started writing. On the night when I sat down beside her she remained silent, even as I rocked back and forth on the ground beside her and beneath my skirt blades of grass swept along my perineum like a swarm of tiny sylphs. It took a more than a few repetitions for that motion to register: to her an isolated occurrence is nothing. Any event-pattern which persists long enough to catch her attention is thoroughly subsumed, though, and soon enough I was in her arms, which was where I stayed, more or less, for a decade.

Yet once the pile of my friend’s clothing which had become my desk, dining table and bed swallowed her up and she emerged in the only coffee shop and actually the only building in Heartworld she saw me in the arms of a young man and told the owner that eros was a defective concept. It cancels itself out, she said. But look, the owner said once he had led her to the storefront which looked out onto a scarlet desert extending off to a chain of mountains trembling like the vertrebrae of a colossal old man up from the horizon into the stony silver-veined sky, the world is brimming with it. Her gaze ricocheted off my Adam’s apple gleaming in the wake of the young man’s tongue, which had passed on to my fingertips, and returned to the bloodfrigid desert as she said the world is brimming with self-cancellation and asked the owner what his shop was called.

The only coffee shop in Heartworld was called Café Latesce; though the colony of delicate young men who roosted inside, branching off from and sinking into one another in an all-day quiver, spoiled the atmosphere for my friend, who went to a café every day as a way of staving off death, the place could have been the decisive point of her engagement with coffee: before the young man had ushered me with his fiendish cheekbones and restless tongue into the ciborium of intimacy, the owner told me that the result of his life’s work on coffee, his pursuit, he said, of a purity which blooms into the brilliance of complexity charged with warmth and hue, beyond sybaritism and drudgery, purity which is a splinter of freedom, he said, was that he had not only abandoned coffee but had even opened a coffee shop which served only water, he said as he placed a glass on the table, walking off wordlessly when I asked the price.

So when I lowered myself into the young man’s lap I imagined I might also strike against refulgent purity, even though what impelled me was the same indelible coarseness which drove me out of the arms of my friend, who was even coarser than I, into the closet and my dissertation and finally into Heartworld and before that out of my bedroom and into her arms. Like the rest of them, he seemed completely without recourse, but as he drank his water the spite which lit up his helplessness offered a glimpse of a disdain numinous enough to make living on into something more than an impropriety.

Actually what seemed to be numen was only the bile of passivity, which my friend had hoped to escape by entering Heartworld. A writer, she told me the components of her experience were deliquescing after having spent hours unspooling polychromatic labyrinths from her fingertips. Funny thing, to lose track of sensation itself. I love my friend, but I can’t concede that the marrow of emotion is just a kind of exercise. Once she’d gorged herself on rational-affective freedom she’d drag her hands along the walls of our apartment and mumble to herself for hours on end. When I asked what she was doing she said she was perceiving beauty, which I had thought wasn’t something that turned people into marionettes to be discarded among the strata of captivation.

Unlike my friend, the young man I met in Heartworld didn’t need to perceive beauty in order to become a marionette. He and his contemporaries spent every day at the coffee shop, splitting and coalescing as the owner experimented with new blends of water. When the shop closed everyone darted over to the other side of the mountains, where instead of a coffee shop an acicular mineral growth like a severed head hijacked by an exquisite fungus provided a roost in the monotony of Heartworld. Through his belly pressed against one of those lengths of azure stabbing like porcupine quills into the grey sky and his limbs dangling like haptic chimes in the windless air, he felt, he said as his hand swept over my clavicle, a safety which in childhood he’d thought nonexistent.

Safety—even in Heartworld, I was prosaic in comparison with my friend. To succumb to the young man wasn’t so much to slot myself into his embrace as slot him into my own internal calculus. On tabletops, from rafters, beneath chairs, within small fortresses constructed from cups, coasters and pieces of my friend’s clothing (there was a leak in the roof), the others waited like shy startled owls, the room shuddering like a knife thrust into a table as their delirious permutation came to a halt. The owner took the opportunity to strike out against the debris marring the floor of his ideal café, but he kept smiling at us, a smile encrusted with the smegma of closeness. A sob stole away from the young man and a tear jumped from his cheek to mine. When I slotted myself into the sincerity of my friend’s hollowing-out and resonance and lived with my friend for ten years in contradiction to a lethal and ravenous cloddishness which before I met my friend had already become an inextricable part of myself no one had bothered us, but now everyone was looking. A tatter of azure fretwork drifted up into the sky beyond the café’s facade. In my ear canal the word “I’m…” sprouted with the timidity of a cotyledon and was severed off.

Because that was when my friend decided to deface Heartworld. Under the pressure of my guilt, the shards of my friend’s glass and the drops of high-grade water scattered across the floor morphed into a landscape from an artificial moon, charged with the volcanism of coolant and silica gel. To continue along perception’s stairway seemed impossible: even when I closed my eyes and slid onto the floor nothing changed. The owner rushed over but my friend pushed him aside. What did it feel like to be inside a videogame? Was this the new death? She pressed the young man to the floor and ground his belly against the debris, soaking and tearing his exquisite clothing. In that position he might have been napping on a skylight, kissing the pane with a face covered in snot and tears, like my face on the night I met her, whose face was still tearless as she kicked his waist and mumbled this is life, isn’t it until her words, attacks fell away. It all seemed obvious.

In fact I hoped that my thesis wasn’t just nonsense, in my heart of hearts I pled for it to be a depiction of my friend, but of course I wasn’t sure. It crossed my mind that if everything in the world hinged on a characteristic contradiction then like a childhood pet I’d mishandled mine and lost its trust: I wanted to ask where I was, what I was doing, my thoughts seemed to be hurtling toward euphoric clarity—but the owner knocked my friend to the ground, grinding her back against the beautiful glass until a moan began to pool out from her mouth. We cowered along the room’s perimeter, like reeds along the edge of a lake stretching down to the floor of the world, as he surveyed us, climbed atop a table and clapped his hands over his head. In a voice charged with measure and charisma he said that while mathematics, the adventure of reason, could offer only the dream of hope art, the staidness of derangement, could at least offer the actuality of despair, that before he opened a coffee shop he had done many things, had prized beauty from the silent mouth of a root system, siphoned violence from the marrow of sensation, unwound the harmonics of sleep and waking, been swept into the convolution of idiocy and intensity, had gathered the exuviae of perception in a little room and gotten lost inside, that though he was nothing he’d defined a location, that in the end form was only the residue of opacity, that before, at night, he used to stand for hours by a flowerpot on a deserted street, that he could feel, inside his body, the sound of an approaching train, and so on, until a carafe shattered against his head and he plummeted to the floor. My friend, a writer, went over to me and gripping my shoulder with the hand that had thrown the carafe said why is it always like this, even a coffee shop invariably melts into the clockwork of articulation, hope he’s okay. She kissed me on the cheek after saying let’s go, but my legs were unsteady—I couldn’t evaluate whether we had been producing truth or falsehood.

Together we began stacking up tables and chairs to reach the ceiling, but as we continued the young men, who at first had only looked on in docile curiosity, began to press in on us, surging forward like pseudopods. When one of them latched onto my friend’s back I couldn’t move: that contact which seemed like the initial fracture in the collapse of my dream of pleasure left me powerless, so that I could only watch with my head propped on my knees as one by one they attached themselves, streaming out from her back like huge elongate galls. After a while the owner was tugging at my face with his hands, though, apologizing for what had happened. He hoped we’d visit again: our drinks were on the house. Those mundane words were like ammonia, offering if not clarity then the simplicity of waking, so that it was easy to pluck the young men from my friend’s back and stuff them into my mouth: they were light, crispy but melt-in-your-mouth, salty, metallic, honeysuckle, almost the ideal snack. But when I got to the one with bits of glass in his belly I didn’t swallow him but instead tossed him up through the hole in the ceiling and back into my friend’s closet. We’ve been taking care of him together—I think he’s doing well, though sometimes he coughs up blue petals.