Excerpt from:

vista vision

    Paul’s profile was dense with symbols. In one image his face was reflected in a mirror flecked with phosphorescent toothpaste and in the relative darkness of the bathroom it appeared as if his bright green eyes and high, hard cheekbones were adrift in an enormous open starfield. His age-pocked t-shirt advertised some defunct business whose logo was faded to one soft illegible Z. This shirt signaled an irony uncommon in towns as earnest as this. And though I’ve hunkered here to free myself of such affectation, at the sight of its familiar expression I stumbled towards it like a wet oasis in a desiccated mud-flat.
    We exchanged a few curt messages, sup hottie? - ty not much wbu - same. what are you looking for? - let’s hang out. Then presented seductive pictures from our portfolios. His compelled me. Made me feel lawless anomie. I wanted to pass through the phone and maul him. - hotttttt - they were all charmingly inept, motion blurred, lit with baring flashes, but even under unforgiving conditions, I wanted what I saw, every pixel. My own shots were months old, taken on days when for whatever reason I felt sexy. Laying in bed, in soft light, with morning wood. In the bathroom after a long run, which did not immediately enhance my physique, but rather my mood, my opinion of myself. Physical vanity is such an infrequent pang, that when it arrives I waste no time in extracting its potency for times of privation. Like a squirrel feverishly stockpiling nuts for winter. The pictures were of my own body, and if sharing them was a form of false advertisement, it wasn’t because of any physical change that might have depreciated me between then and now, but a lessening of the self-confidence they were imbued with.
    We agreed to meet at a Mexican restaurant when he got off work. Paul was waiting outside at one of the plastic tables with two burritos getting cold in paper boats. The bowl of tortilla chips had been eaten to crumbs and Paul stared at it glumly as I approached and broke his concentration. ‘Hi. You’re Paul right?’ He looked up. ‘Yo.’ The instant I sat down he tore into his food, his patient chivalry extending only so far. ‘Am I late?’ I asked.
    ‘No.’ He snarled. ‘I’m just really hungry.’ I nodded cooly and watched his vigorous eating. There was a glowing canopy of string lights above us that colored everything in an exultant, romantic light. I couldn’t help but stare at his body, which is so perfectly formed that every time he stopped to listen he was naturally cast into the posture of a significant classical sculpture. His solid, square head resting on a palm, on a branch-like forearm, folded neatly on the table. I was already working out how I might photograph him. If that’s something he’d want to do, let me do, want to let me do. And if he didn’t, how’d I’d get him to.
    His head and shoulders were lightly dusted in wood-shavings and pale drifts sloughed off him like he’d been freshly unearthed from an archeological site. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘The earthquake fucked up a bunch of doorframes. I was sanding them down all day.’ I nodded. The earthquake had apparently happened two nights ago. I’d slept soundly through it, and woke in the morning to three texts from familiars inquiring about my wellbeing. ‘You’re sweet, but I’m fine. I didn’t even feel it.’ They all responded to my cool with puzzlement and incredulous emojis. ‘How? It’s all over the news!’ The rest of the crew all reported they’d been stirred awake by the tremors. But I didn’t feel a thing. I was the only one who hadn’t roused to the call of natural drama and I wondered what that might mean about me generally.
    ‘My arms are fuckin’ sore.’ Paul said, stretching them skyward and grimacing in pain. His shirt lifted and flashed a hard, tan tract of abdomen. That’s a shot. I thought. He dropped his arms limply to his sides and yawned. I asked him what he does for work. ‘I’m a handyman.’
    ‘Oh, cool.’ I said, pleasantly surprised. Handyman, honorable. He said nothing. This becomes a fixture of our conversations, I have to amend every statement with a question. I have to prompt him. If I don’t I get the feeling he’ll just sit silently forever. This colors every spoken interaction we have with the imbalance of an interrogation. ‘-How do you like it?’ I finally asked.
    ‘Ah. It’s fine.’ These words he released with real pneumatic force. The breath he expelled was like a him-smelling breeze, another intimate preview of the body I’d  gain access to later. I hoped. His face creased in confusion. ‘-I work for this guy Max. He owns all the rental houses in town. I do repairs when something breaks. Which is like — every fucking second because people are retarded.’ He stared at me, his expression stormy, as if I were responsible for these stranger’s shortcomings. Silent seconds swelled. He unclipped something from his belt loop and raised its glittering heft to eye level, ’See this?’ He asked. It was an enormous metal ring with many keys looped through it. He squinted proudly. ‘I’m like a dungeon master.’ He shook them. The keys chimed metallically like a pocket-full of coins.
    ‘Wow.’ I said.
    ‘I can get into pretty much any house I want.’
    ‘Wow.’ I searched, ‘-That’s a lot of power.’ I took a cautious bite of my burrito.
    ‘Some people are such assholes. I could literally take a dump on someone’s shit while they’re on a mule ride or- at a wine tasting or whatever but I don’t. Because that sort of shit corrodes your soul. You know? Pulling pranks on people. Pulling one over on people.’ I nodded. ‘That sounds really annoying.’ His eyes bore holes into mine, and his voice took on a spooky, significant timbre. 
    ‘It’s like a test… It’s like god saying, ‘what do you do when no one is looking?’
    ‘Right.’ He stared down at the remaining burrito in his hand, and dropped it back onto the paper boat, disgusted. ‘I’m not trying to do it forever obviously.’
    ‘I’m in school for computer science. It’s just taking me a minute.’ It was like he’d thrown a strip of tire spikes out in front of my wheels.
    ‘Computers?’ I asked.
    ‘Yeah at the city college.’
    I don’t know much about computers but I know I don’t want to spend my life fiddling with them. I like the idea of investing in people instead. If he’s so into machines, shouldn’t he recognize the stubborn supremacy of the human mind as the greatest machine of all? ‘Why?’ I asked.
    ‘Computers are the future.’ He said simply. And though it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment, an idea calcified into truth. No. Computers are the past. And then I thought, if that’s the case, What comes next?

Jack Paradise is a writer and filmmaker from Washington State. His debut novella Greenhouse was recently released by Publication Studio, as the latest in their Fellow Travelers Series. He is developing a feature film.

Images by Hailey Heaton.

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