Young Benny Horton sat in the cavernous living room of a luxurious high-rise apartment on a round, backless white couch with a giant white button in its middle. It was 1959. Men wore hats. Women had big hair.
People wore sunglasses, and smiled an awful lot.
In the room with Benny was Benny’s mom, Jacquelyn. She wore a long, flowing purple, a string of gold pearls draped about her neck. She stood cooly gazing at the city below through the room’s great window.
“Ah, the teeming city,” said Jacquelyn. “It is like an organism unto itself.” She spun and regarded her son. “You understand what I’m saying, Benny, do you not? About the city living and breathing as a single organic unit?”
“I sure do!” piped up Benny “Absolutely! The many is just like the one.” He laughed nervously. “I mean, it’s maybe just a tiny little bit bigger than your typical single-cell organism-–but still! The one is comprised of the parts! Everything is in everything! All of life is one! ‘Thou art that,’ as they say! Definitely! You bet!”
His mother looked decidedly nonplussed.
“God, you have a lot to learn,” she said, turning back to contemplate the view.
“It’s true,” said Benny. “I really do. I know it. You’re right.”
His mother responded not. That happened.
“Um, Mom?” said Benny. “I was wondering. You know all those cacti you placed in my bedroom, in what I guess was the middle of last night? They’re really nice and everything. What characters! But the thing is, I don’t think — ”
“No,” sighed Jacquelyn wearily. “You don’t think, Benny. You’ve never thought. It’s simply not in you. At the absolute best your opinions are diverting. You must surrender to the fact that your life will never be a cerebral one, son. The world of the physical is your realm. Therein lies the life which the Great Creative Spirit intended for you.”
“Yeah,” said Benny. “I could see that. I actually kind of like that, because—”
“My child, tell me. Have you ever had an erection?”
“What?! Jesus, Mom. I gotta tell you, I don’t feel — ”
“No, no you don’t, Benny. You don’t feel anything. That’s your problem. You’re like those poor, stubby cacti I placed in your room last night as a subtle reminder of the fact that the world, Benny — this whole, vast, complicated, screw-’em-before-they-screw-you world — is full of pricks. The symbolism of my gesture escaped you, naturally. Metaphor is, after all, a subtle, delicate thing, not handled well by strictly linear thinkers such as you. Now, I’ve asked you once, and I’m asking you again. Have you ever had an — ?”
Someone rapped on the apartment door.
“Oh, God,” breathed Jacquelyn. “It’s ice cream. I know it.” She crossed to the door, her gown flowing behind her. She swung the door open to reveal a trim, dark-haired, white-uniformed Good Humor Man. He was holding a small paper bag.
“Ice cream delivery!” said the Good Humor Man. “Did somebody order a half-gallon of Double-Double Chocolate?”
Jacquelyn leaned against the edge of the door, running her hand up and down along its edge. Feeling the power of her lyre-like hips, she said, “You bring creamy, delectable gifts from the heavenly fields of Krishna, don’t you, you delightful thing?”
The Good Humor Man looked down into his sack, smiled, and said, “I guess I do!” Then he looked past her to Benny.
“Hi, ya’ Benny!” he waved. “How’s it going?”
“Pretty good!” said Benny, hoping to use this opportunity to further develop his social skills. “But I’m trapped here with my insane mother! Please help me!”
“I hear ya!” rejoined the Good Humor Man. Then he dropped his voice and confided to Benny’s mother, “Still doesn’t quite have it, does he?”
“No. We’re thinking of having him committed.”
“I had a cousin who got committed. Those places are hell holes. Better to take him to a vacant lot and shoot him if you have to.”
Benny’s mom grabbed the Good Humor Man by his collar, and pulled him forward until their noses were touching. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she hissed. “Being committed would be good for him. Psychologists are our friends. Are you trying to tell me what’s best for my son, you obviously repressed homosexual neurotic?”
“No ma’am,” said the Good Humor Man, suddenly feeling very sorry for Benny. “Not at all. My mistake.” He pushed his clipboard up between them. “Sign here, please.”
She released him. “What am I signing for?” she asked sweetly.
As if in a daze, Jacquelyn penned her name and returned the clipboard.
“Suddenly I feel paralyzed,” she said.
“I don’t!” said the Good Humor Man. He snatched his clipboard and dashed away down the hallway. “Enjoy your ice cream! Good luck!”
After feebly waving the man goodbye, Jacquelyn stared down at the carpet. She remained where she was. She began to dream about when she was a little girl living in a poor country orphanage. She remembered herself barefoot and crying, her hair caked with dirt, insects crawling through a half-eaten pan of cornbread.
She let the ice cream fall from her hand. Barely aware of her own movement, she walked off down the hallway toward the building’s elevators. She felt like she was gliding.
Benny crossed to the door, and looked down the hallway. “Mom, are you going to lunch?” he called.
Without turning around, Jacquelyn dismissed him by quickly flitting her hand around in the air behind her head.
“I said, ‘Are you going to lunch?’ you life-sucking, psycho-witch from hell!” Benny screamed. His mother stopped in her tracks. She slowly turned to face him. She raised both of her hands. “Can you see the blood coming from my palms?” she asked.
“No,” said Benny sadly. “I can’t. I’m sorry, Mom. I just can’t see it.”
“Well, it’s there,” said Jacquelyn. “You know it’s there.” She turned and walked away again, disappearing around a corner. Benny soon heard the familiar sound of the elevator bell. He heard the elevator arrive, open, and close.
He then became aware of how quiet it was. Nobody seemed to be home in any of the apartments on his floor. But maybe they were. He couldn’t tell. All those closed doors.
Benny looked down at his hands, which were suddenly stinging. From both of his palms, blood, for some reason, was trickling. He pressed his hands against the outside of the door and moved them around a little, making red smudges. Then he went inside, closed and locked the door behind him, went into the kitchen, and washed his hands. The cuts he then saw on his palms were very small indeed; he’d most likely received them from the cacti. Now they barely hurt at all.
He went back into the living room, and sat down upon the round backless couch. He heard a helicopter flying right outside the window. It went whap whap whap whap whap.
Then at the window he heard a big fwunk! He got up, looked, and saw that a pigeon had flown into the window pane, and was now lying on the window’s outside ledge. Its neck was broken. It closed its little black eyes. Benny tried to open the window, but found that it was painted permanently shut. That was surprising.
Benny went into his bedroom, took a small potted cactus from the floor near his bed, and carried it back into the living room. He placed plant on the inside ledge of the window, as close to the pigeon as possible. He stared at the bird.
He would never be able to state it as a certain fact, but, for the rest of his life, Benny would believe that at that very moment, the bird had done the most impossible thing in the world.
It had opened its eyes, looked right at him, and smiled.