Land of 1,000 Lousy Ideas – Ted Prokash

It all started with the paper I was writing on that Dostoyevsky novel. Demons. Or, as it was originally translated, The Possessed… But that’s a whole academic argument I won’t get into here. It’s what got me into this mess in the first place. Academia is a scum-pit of lousy ideas with a sort of wink and nod, tweed respectability laid on top like foliage over a tiger trap.


I snuck a glance at Esmeralda. The stillness in her posture, the intensity of her stare… I could almost see the ideas working, fast like demons behind her eyes. I squirmed in my underwear, lying supine on the floor, whimpered a little. She paid me no mind.


It was all that filthy novel! Like some mystic Russian hex, its central idea worked its way into my subconscious, spread like poison against my poor, weak moral constitution. Before I was halfway through my examination of Demons, (yes, yes, you’ll know by now I accept P & V’s translation, though I haven’t delved into their handling of Tolstoy, mind you) my head was beginning to fill with visions of pigs rushing off in stupid sounders to drown, lemmings spilling over cliffs… pig-eyed humans marching off to war. Where I’d initially found strength in a literary idea – when I first read the book, some 15 years ago – I now heard the strains of cynical laughter, laughter growing louder the longer I worked. The laughter of the cynic for the helplessly naive.


What’s an idea?! I’d thought with a laugh. A strong mind could cast one off like a childish superstition. Ho, ho, was I dumb. Blind! What I failed to consider is what piggish vessels we humans are. That ideas never die but are whipped around on the wind, seep into our boots by the shitty mud in our wallows.


I hadn’t taken a drink in ten years. I thought I’d simply gotten over it – conquered the idea of need. Ha ha! Then, somewhere in the tumescent throes of my work, I finally became euphoric – high on my own cognitive powers, I suppose. I was taken with a new idea: why shouldn’t I have a drink? I was a different man now. Stronger. And (here’s one of man’s most trite, old punchlines) I’d earned it after all. Such stupid, piggish animals we are.


I groaned, flopped myself over on my back, raising a cloud of dog hair and liquor sweat. I just couldn’t catch Esmeralda’s attention. She sat leaning forward on the futon, elbows on her knees, arms crossed loosely at the wrists, bony hands dangling. She stared at some spot a few feet above my head. I sat up, putting myself more in her line of vision. “I think I’m gonna puke,” I said, holding my head.


“It’s fine,” she chimed, in like a b-flat minor. An airy yet ominous note… It’s fine?! All that sinister shifting and squirming behind the girl’s stare only manifested in a calm distance. Funny, terrifying, how they could suddenly put you at such a distance. Cast you off.


I started out carefully, cravenly, really. “I’m… I’m not sure we should see each other again, Esmeralda.”


An incredulous, little laugh. “Oh… oh, no.” She laughed again at the thought of it, again, more bemused than amused. “No, definitely not.”


I started feeling seriously edgy. “Ez… everything that happened last night was consensual.” Even I was aware of the panic working at the edge of my voice – squirmingly aware.


For the first time that nauseous, migraine-light morning, Esmeralda looked me in the face. She jerked her gaze my way, like at the sudden opening of a circuit. And her face was suddenly alight with… well, all sorts of high, proselytizing ideas. She shook her head slowly. “That’s just the thing, Marty. I don’t know if I’m capable of consenting to the things that happened last night. You know, I’m technically not old enough after all.”


“Oh for fuck’s sake!” I groaned. “Ez… no one needs to know.” And in a last lightning flash of craven, cowardly inspiration – I saw it sitting there, next to her on the futon – I made a dive for her iphone. But she snatched it away at the last instant. And she laughed. That rotten… piggish, little bitch, she laughed!


“Oh no, you wouldn’t. After all the things you said… and did to me… you wouldn’t resort to stealing my property or… or assault.” She looked down on me with the gravest condemnation. She would’ve made a good nun in the fantasy of some relapsed-Catholic pervert with those sharp cheekbones and trembling, green eyes.


Young Esmeralda was significantly more spry on a hangover than I was. To be fair, I hadn’t had any practice in ten years. Scrolling her phone, she strode to the door of the flophouse apartment her daddy kept for her to play wifey to her high school football player boyfriend in – out of a desperate attempt to keep some kind of control over her, no doubt – and turned back to me only when she was halfway through it. My naked upper half was propped up on the futon, my mouth gaping, my stomach doing nasty, panicked convulsions. “I’m afraid there’s no easy way to do this, Marty. I’m going to come clean with Chad. I have to. I don’t want to lose him. And my parents…” She sighed. “If I were you, I’d find some way to break it to your wife. Oh, and be out of here by noon. Chad and his friends usually stop by to get high at lunch. God, I shouldn’t drink tequila…” she said to herself as the door closed behind her.


I flopped back onto the floor. Dog hair and hangover and flop sweat fear. Staring at the ceiling through a blurry film of tears. I prayed for some idea of what to do next.