I’m watching television.
The peculiarly-coiffed gentleman is on again. His mottled flesh is of a queer mélange of hues I would describe as off-putting. I label him orange man.
He’s going on about something. The strained, reedy tone of his voice indicates he’s terribly agitated. He’s shouting, even though a cluster of microphones is mere inches from his mouth to capture every utterance. He’s juggling nouns and verbs and adjectives like so many flaming chainsaws. Waggling his hands in the air like a magician about to reveal his trick.
The words my wall leave his mouth. I miss the rest when a ray of light fills my left eye, startling me.
“How are you today, Mr. Argyle?” the technician asks.
“Fine, thanks.” I make to wave the light away, but the technician shifts the flashlight out of reach, aiming it at my right eye now.
I sigh and let him continue his ministrations. This is part of the service, the first of six bi-monthly checkups over the course of the first year. I’ve paid dearly for the privilege, so I mustn’t make a fuss over an inconvenience.
I stare at the screen over his shoulder as electrodes are adhered to my skull. A new man is speaking now, white this time, not orange. He’s thinner, and bald. He’s speaking into more foam-covered microphones. The veins in his head throb in concert with his words. The subtitles are on, scrolling beneath him. I see words such as caravan and dangerous people and libtards.
“Is he alright?” my wife asks the technician.
The technician checks his computer. “One hundred percent.” He removes the wires. I try not to wince as sticky pads pull away threads of my hair.
The newscaster is on. He has placed an expression of grave concern over his face.
“I wasn’t at all for Martin getting this…procedure,” my wife says. “He didn’t even tell me. Just came home and announced he’d had it done. I was livid. But I must admit, he’s so much calmer now.”
She puts a hand on my shoulder. I smile and watch the news.
“It’s been an hour. He’s not the least bit upset. He should be apoplectic by now.”
“That’s our pledge,” the technician says. He wraps the cords into a neat loop around his hand and slips them into his pocket. “The complete negation of outrage, or your money back.”
I ignore them. The news is on. It’s important to participate in democracy.
Orange man has returned. He’s howling something about hunting witches. His diaphanous tresses flap about his head as he shakes and totters and shrieks, like a bamboo tree in a hurricane.
I grin. It’s comical, is what it is.
“God, that cretin,” my wife says. “Doesn’t he ever shut up? It gets worse every day, doesn’t it?”
“No argument here, ma’am,” the technician says.
“It’s all I can do not to throw a fit myself.”
My wife quiets. I can’t see her, but I’m certain she’s shaking her head in distress. She does this a lot.
“I can hardly sleep anymore,” she goes on. “I’m so tense. So infuriated. I feel like I’m at a breaking point.”
“Lot of that going around,” says the technician.
“Absolutely. I’m lucky to get a day off.”
“You’re that busy?”
“You’re my fifth today, and I’ve got two more this evening.”
“You must be exhausted. Can I offer you something to drink? Coffee?”
“That would be lovely, thank you.”
She sits the technician down at the dining-room table. I hear her pour him a cup of coffee. She brings me one as well, without my asking. I thank her for her thoughtfulness. She places it on the side table for me. I’ll let it cool a bit.
She stares at me until I look back. She has an odd look in her eyes. I smile until she leaves, then return to the television. Two pallid men in expensive suits are quarreling. The news ticker at the bottom of the screen alerts me that wanton acts of criminality may be on the rise, according to orange man.
“You’re sure he’s alright?”
“You’re the best person to answer that question, ma’am. Are you having concerns?”
“No, it’s been quite pleasant. Martin used to spend every evening screaming at the television. Now he’s so…agreeable all the time. A new man.”
“That’s what we at NO-RAGE like to hear. The absolute annulment of indignation.”
“I’ve never seen him so peaceful. To be frank, I’m envious. That hideous little monster, whenever he’s on the television, when I see his repulsive carrot skin, I just, I just…”
My wife ceases talking. It gets very quiet.
I know what’s about to happen. Perhaps I should warn the technician.
I remain silent. The news is on.
I don’t want to miss a word.
There’s a noise like cracking ice. My wife begins to sob.
I should acquire some new coffee mugs tomorrow. She’s broken several this month. Perhaps I should purchase plastic mugs instead. Plastic doesn’t shatter when you throw it against a wall.
“There, there,” the technician says. “It’s not so bad.”
“I’m so so-sorry,” my wife says. Her weeping has ceased, but she’ll be hiccupping for a few minutes. “I don’t know wha-what came over me-me.”
“No apologies necessary. I’m well-acquainted with this phenomenon.”
“Very much so. After all, it is by no means coincidence that our company name is an anagram of orange.”
“It is?” My wife snorts. “Oh, th-that’s ho-ho-horrible.”
The newscaster is back. He may be a different newsman this time. His dyed nut-brown hair is parted on the other side. He summarizes what orange man said and speculates on what will be said next. The ticker reports on what orange man has typed on social media platforms.
My wife and the technician are quiet.
There’s footage of a disaster. Many people have died horribly. The newsman wonders aloud why orange man refuses to mention it. The ticker tells me orange man is angry at professional athletes.
“If I wa-wanted to-to…” my wife says.
“If I wanted it, what do I do?”
“You can make an appointment to come to the clinic. Or, if you’d rather, I can do it here.”
“Now? Oh, I couldn’t.”
“It’s a very simple technique. All that’s required is a signature and credit card number.”
“But what if something goes wrong?”
“Our contract fully indemnifies you and your family for one million dollars should something go awry. But, as I said, it’s all very simple. Routine, even. NO-RAGE has, so far, never had to pay out even one cent in recompense.”
They’ve returned to orange man. He says the opposite of what he said earlier.
I’m fine with this.
“Does it hurt?” my wife asks.
“I cannot lie, ma’am. The procedure, straightforward as it is, is a direct injury to your brain. NO-RAGE promises our clientele a life free from fury, resentment, and unfocused umbrage, but we cannot guarantee the procedure itself to be pain-free.”
I can attest to this. It hurt quite a bit. But the memory of the excruciating pain, like my fury, has dimmed into shadows. It’s difficult to remember exactly what I was so incensed about.
“However, I’d like to point out our one-hundred-percent satisfaction rate. While the experience has been charitably described as nightmarish, we believe the results speak for themselves.”
A woman comes on screen. She calls orange man a fabricator of misinformation. The newsman interrupts her and the network cuts to commercial. An attractive young blonde lady bleats about her throbbing hemorrhoids.
“Have you undergone it yourself?”
“Sadly, there exist particular professions to which an application of NO-RAGE is less than beneficial. Vocations that demand a high level of mental acuity that the procedure necessarily dampens. While lobbyists are currently working to overcome such obstacles, government regulations currently prohibit our services to certain members of the medical, academic, military, and technological communities. As specialists such as myself do fall within that narrow rubric, I must forgo the pleasure. However, I take solace in the knowledge that, while I may not benefit personally, my efforts have resulted in the contentment of so many people.”
The hemorrhoidal lady looks much better. She’s attending a smooth jazz concert. The commercial ends, and another begins. A fetching young woman, even blonder, is despondent over her choice of laundry detergent. Her husband looks on impotently.
“I’m not sure.”
“What is it you do for a living?”
“I’m a librarian.”
“I should think you’ll be fine. Has Mr. Argyle’s work suffered?”
“Not at all. If anything, he’s happier. He’s secretly always hated being a high school principal.”
“There you have it then.”
New people arrive to screech about explosives, and the robustness of the bombs we currently have, and the irrefutable need for more of them. I chuckle at their antics.
My wife moans. She mutters something, and a few hushed syllables are shared. I can’t make out the words.
It doesn’t matter. I know what’s happening.
I hear them rise from the table and leave the house.
I turn my head and watch through the window. The technician arrived in a nondescript van. He slides the door open. Inside I glimpse a variety of medical implements. I vaguely remember a few of them.
My wife climbs inside the vehicle. Her face is streaked with tears. The technician follows her inside and slides the door shut behind him.
I turn up the volume. Orange man is back. His tirade helps drown out the screams.
After a break for sports and weather, my wife exits the vehicle. She has a small bandage on her forehead now. She looks disoriented. She plays with her hair as the van drives away, then comes inside.
I slide over on the sofa to make room. She sits, and we watch orange man’s jowls jounce about as he sputters and raves.
“It’s so scary,” my wife says after a time.
“What’s that, hon?” I say.
“What he’s saying. That criminal activities are at an all-time high.”
We watch in silence for a few minutes.
“I’m purchasing a firearm tomorrow,” I say. “For protection.”
“Oh, you simply must,” says my wife. “You heard him. Owning a gun is only common sense these days.”
“That settles it, then.”
Her fingers creep over the cushion towards me. I take her hand in mine and smile. Life is good.
We watch the television.
Up until this very moment, I’ve published two well-received works of fiction, Shelf Monkey (ECW Press, 2007) and Husk (ECW Press, 2012). I have also published stories in anthologies such as The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir (Exile Editions, 2015), Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond (ChiZine Publications, 2015), Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories (Exile Editions, 2016), and We Shall Be Monsters (Renaissance Press, 2018). I have also published a number of non-fiction pieces for Quill and Quire, Rhubarb Magazine, The Toronto Star, and The National Post, among others. I am hoping that a Deathmatch win will add a gritty street cred to my résumé.