Sarcodes: A Short Story

BY Eva Hannan | | Pandemic Diaries

I am in the house. Why am I in a house? I don’t mean why am I in the house. I know why I am in the house, now. I don’t mean why is my house such a house with its multiform walls and ornamentation and working appliances. Yard. I mean, why is a house the thing I am in, now, while the pandemic writhes and glistens? It is good I am in a house. What if I were in an apartment. What if I had a mansion to clean? An extravagant version of *M.A.S.H.* where the caveat is you will live in, and be confined to most exclusively, this abode wherein the choice of which is ticked off through some counting mechanism whose arbitrarily defined system I have forgotten. Shack. What about Tent? Does the relevant version of the game these days include the option of Tent Under The Freeway A Few Blocks From Where You Used To Live? Shack don’t sound too bad.

Most accurate description of my consistent childhood home. Shack. Shack In The Woods, for the half of time when it wasn’t Trailer In The Other Woods. Child of divorce. The city has become rural, and the rural is fuming. Not much has changed in the country. There never was too much to do but decide whether you cared at the variety of birds or plants or chickens populating the yard and whose seasonal shifts mask more reasonable the cycling of time than any clock or calendar, mathematical impositions to the moon and sun, ever could. I marvel this year at a spring I have taken in like I have not done since childhood.

What can I expect with this commitment to house? We say, in a house and in a relationship, but they mean two different things, that in. Don’t they? They’re both seeming like Marriage now. Now, the in of my house competes with the in of my relationship. My house is huge and my love expansive. I am in luck, but missing control over other activities leaves me feeling too married to each. I chafe. My rebellion at the multiplying confinements cause confusing heartbreaks. I scrub surfaces furiously and plot to leave my lover. Pretending. I have to move to Europe. Would Michelle be interested? Could I live anywhere and still do my semester?

Is this an answer or a running away? I wouldn’t be thinking like this if I were still swimming in the usual distractions. Now I cling to these fantasies for the relief they offer, as my psyche pulls the past back over my eyes. Must I relive it now? Anniversary of the dog attack, abortion, molestation, infectious mononucleosis, the usual late spring memories? Can hating my parents be caring for myself? I may get something over and done but am I really just attempting an equilibrium of grief to life? Is this a getting through? A getting over? How many bad things happen? To me? Were they really? And how much bad have I done to myself in the time between to make it at least my thing? How many thing’s thing is this, and am I a victim more or less of form? The form of poverty, throw-away people? Will dying not be just the ultimate malevolence of this form? Might I just get used to it, avoid pain at the end?

In my body, in my relationship, in my house. I have got to get a life. It’s just my whatever little thing. I can’t let it go. It is little, isn’t it? It is bad? I go. I go from the back of the house to the front. I go at the turn of a note from esteemed artists I hear again for the first time. Going through the iPod for missed compositions. I go from the front to the back and back. From time to time I take a trip to Norcom or walk laps on the lake. When I do, I walk from the front to the back of the lake. It’s sexy how criminal you are. I can’t stand how vulnerable I feel. Looking in a mirror, wishing some things less real. So tell me, how do you feel? “When I saw you / you look so surprised. / When the oceans flow / through your blue-grey eyes / and I stood and gazed / into hot summer days, / so tell me, how do you feel?”

***

A little air has settled onto me in my sleep, and I tried to wriggle around to get it off, but there is too much pressing me in. I sigh, and, without opening my eyes, I force my mouth open and start resignedly, sleepily, to swallow. Eventually I eat all the air in front of my face, and then I can start to move. Really chomping now (in a rush since I am suddenly extravagantly thirsty) I make my way down the stairs face first, farting up a storm as I leave a little trail of digested air behind me. I get over to the drinking pool and thrust my head in, lustfully swallowing water.

I thrash around a bit, partly to enjoy the sensation and partly to make sure some good air builds up from the evaporating droplets. That’s one thing you have to be careful about in a house or enclosed space—making sure you don’t just end up eating your own farts all day. As I turn to get back to bed, I am careful not to jostle any contaminated air into the pool. Fortunately, the house has kept the air from settling in much to speak of, and I can wiggle rapidly back up into my little bed. I curl around, belatedly farting a few last bits off the edge, and fall back into a deep slumber.

I am holding my child on my lap. At another end of the island a huge water spout shoots whales, octopi, dolphins and all manner of fish into the sky before they crest and turn, writhing belly up and over to crash into the oceanic swirl below. She will never see it, or maybe we will go. I don’t know what they do without me, but I have never seen her there. I think it is “her” but it’s hard to tell. They seem to shift in the light. The viewing platform is clear plexiglass mounted far above the crashing waters, and the vertigo is incredible to newcomer and regular observer alike. The child’s hair is impossibly fine, rather straight and long, and catches the sunlight in myriad spectral rainbows like the mists coming off the ocean’s fountain. Strawberry blond.

It’s force surges and subsides, tidal, and once in a storm it came up much higher than usual and destroyed portions of the viewing tower. Several fish were asphyxiated when their bodies landed on portions of the all-clear structure, which allows viewing from the beach level as well as over the sandy cliff and out across the spout itself, with clear-enclosed clear stairs carrying the sturdiest sort up the several stories the spout typically runs to wonder at the creatures in its midst. A whale, gutted by a jagged edge, pulled streamers of intestine and blood down after their fading form. Then a lot of sharks came and the spout was red for a while. No humans were harmed; tours are suspended in stormy weather. Sunset typically serves for excellent viewing. The colors are incredible in the golden hour, and the water is the clearest as the sun lips over the horizon, its diffuse light lingering to silhouette all the creatures, even the transparent jellyfish and bits of waving seaweed you’d hardly notice in the full light of the sun.

The child seems impossibly thin, but healthy, and is certainly content to allow my fingers to caress and arrange their hair in endless wind-strewn styles, muttering and manipulating the doll in their lap. Strange this child has tattoos. The ancestors are furious, of course, and the dreams seem punishment for my lack of an attempt in the physical world. What have I willed my body to do? But the child is happy and I will be too, in a few days when the dream subsides. I am rocked in the waves of time. Attempting control would be foolhardy, but the permanent marks on our skins coalesce into near-matching maps. I have three new tattoos, and I noticed a new mole near my belly button.

***

This time I awaken for good, and sunlight streams impossibly around the curtains and bursts in the air across my face. I am pretty hungry now, so I nibble at the accumulation until I have room to lunge across the bed, grab the pull cord with my teeth and yank it back. The window tips open and with it air cascades in. I let it move through my bedchamber, coursing my farts down the ladder-like stairs that suspend from the lofted platform and into a corner by the door. Jackpot. You know you’ve got your window systems right when the natural coursing of the air pushes the waste into consolidated pockets that can be swept out with the wind. Coordination with the breezes that spring up in the late afternoons can be tricky. The briskness of those is actually strong enough to push everything through, rather than just filling the room with new bits of air, but the timing is not always predictable.

You’ve got to be hungry if you want to clean, though, because it inevitably involves a lot of eating, and depending on the content of absorbable nutrients confined in the dusts, pollens, yeasts and insects in that particular wind, you can get full just making one trip across the room to close and open the windows. I personally have partially mastered this problem by having my windows on a system of pulleys and chords, which I can operate from a standing position near the center of the room. A counterweight installed on the window frame helps to facilitate movement when the air is thick and not moving through quite as you’d like. Timing, I’ve found, is everything. Normally, the late afternoon winds correspond with rush hour, so it’s important to clean before the air gets too contaminated by the traffic.

That’s why I’ve always thought the commuter lifestyle is just too unhealthy, since they always wound up getting home too late to avoid the smog-laced air. Their commutes were forcing them to eat a higher percentage of their own stinking dust. Digesting that day after day takes a toll. Of course, they get the freshest air in the mornings, and perhaps that counteracts the deleterious effects of eating smog for dinner. There has been attempts to introduce more nutrients into the vehicular fuel, to limit the outbreaks of Whooping Belch and Partially-Blind Tongues, and some progress has been made in that direction. The issue, as these more experimental communities found out, was that adding more nutrients did give schoolchildren, those without shelter and regularly nutritious air (not to mention the commuters themselves) greater health, but the added caloric intake caused massive routs of obesity in the privileged classes. Of course, they could not be compelled to change their routines or go outside and limit their consumption to the common air of commuters. That kind of monotony could not be allowed to instill itself upon their lifestyles, so the breakthrough was largely abandoned.

Shows how smart we are, literally eating our own pollution and suffering for it. May as well eat our own “air castings,” the socially acceptable term for farts. Some more advanced inventors, absent during the prime hours, have installed timers on the pulleys of their windows, but there’s no real way to know when the best air is going to be blowing in except to look. It’s also always risky to open any windows unsupervised, as your house might get so full of air on a particularly brisk afternoon that it rearranges the furniture. Since I’m home all day anyway, I like to surprise my girlfriend (yes, a dreaded commuter) with a nice variety of airs for dinner. I’ve been getting quite a knack for it. I like to give my girl a boutique selection for dinner every night, since she’s pulling in the bucks. I think this is partially to vary what is otherwise repetitive workdays, and also perhaps an excuse and balm for my inside lifestyle.

“Hey, I’m home,” she says as she swallows her way inside.

“What’s up, how was your day?”

“Urgh, I’m so sick of freaking commuting. It’s just like, great, here I am sitting in my own farts for two hours, swimming in smog, and then the air at the office sucks, and it’s just like, even the best I can get is suck. In fact, it is consistently suck. We have a new purifier dispenser in the break room, but it’s not very efficient and it’s always running out of air by the time I take my lunch. Like, if the managers really cared about us they would have recognized that the schematics for that machine can really only handle a couple of families worth of people’s needs, and not a whole freakin office.”

“Wait they got a residential dispenser to replace the old one? Oh my gosh honey that’s ridiculous. Have you said anything?” I asked.

“Well, you know I would, but I already used up all my complaints for this quarter on the whole air-roaches-and-Steve fiasco right at the beginning of the year, and it’s like, I basically have to whore myself out to get an extra complaint, I mean, we all know who gets the extra complaints in the office, it’s the exec sectaries, or people who want to be in the exec branch so they wear the short skirts and caress the egos and convulse appropriately and you know I can’t handle that shit babe.”

“Damn babe, I’m sorry,” I say as I lick the air off a chair and she maneuvers to sit down and drops heavily onto the seat. “Do you need to take a swim? I haven’t been splashing around too much today, the pool should still be pretty nice.”

She closes her eyes and nods a little, fighting her emotions. I start to fuss around in the rest of the kitchen, arranging the air for dinner and generally trying to take her mind off things.

“I caught a little treat that I think is almost pure cherry-blossom air for dessert tonight babe, It seems like this is the week for it,” I said.

“That’s nice,” she mutters as she starts to undress. I lock the door to the kitchen, in case our roommate is around, and bring her a little tray of snack air as she slithers into the pool. “Mmmmm…. How was your day?” she asks and starts to nibble contentedly.

“It was ok, I slept in and had some crazy dreams. I’m starting to put some of the consistent details of my dream world into a type of cohesion, and the dream I had after I fell back asleep this morning has given me some clues. I feel like I’m dreaming of a past self. Like, way in the past, like I’m pretty sure I never eat air in my dreams. You just walk through it like water. This morning I had a dream about being a mother, and I was like a human before the pandemic forced us to evolve.”

“Whoa, that’s crazy. How do you know you were a mom?” my girlfriend asks sleepily.

“Not sure, it’s like, um, I don’t know how to explain this. Dreams are so weird. It’s like, I have fingers, and everyone has way more hair. Our arms and legs are separate, like strands of seaweed. You’ve seen the pictures. And there’s this crazy fountain with all sorts of sea creatures just getting pushed up into the air, like as tall as the hugest house you’ve ever seen, they just get thrown up and crash back down in the most beautiful arching motion constantly, and there’s this all-clear observer tower thing next to it, and my kid had so much hair that I could like, twist it together into different shapes and knot it together. I don’t really know what that whole thing with the hair was. Not sure how I knew it was my kid, just had a feeling. And they had a little doll that looked like them, and it was like a doll-child on my lap with another doll on its lap and on and on. And they had the same tattoos as me! I dunno. It was wild.”

“That’s nice, babe,” she said, and put her face under the water to drink.

“Ew, you’re gonna drink that water?” I asked as she resurfaced.

“Who cares, what difference does it make,” she asked. “I’m a disgusting human. I’ve been chomping smog air and marinating in my farty, sorry, my ‘air-casting-y’ car and having hate-filled thoughts about exec sectaries and all the stupid not-secret boners the bosses have. Plus, I’m just too lazy to wiggle over there right now, and I’m naked and I just want to freakin relax, ok?”

“Ok, ok, you don’t have to get upset.”

“I’m not upset.”

“That’s good.”

“I just feel exhausted, I don’t know how much longer I can commute.”

“I feel you babe. And, by the way, you’re not a disgusting human being. You’re a wonderful, lovely, freaking sex wiggle of a human being and I would be enchanted to so much as marinate in farts like yours,” I teased.

“Oh my god, you’re so silly,” she said, and sank back beneath the water, munching on her air. At least she was smiling.


A little air has settled onto me in my sleep, and I tried to wriggle around to get it off, but there is too much pressing me in. I sigh, and, without opening my eyes, I force my mouth open and start resignedly, sleepily, to swallow. Eventually I eat all the air in front of my face, and then I can start to move. Really chomping now (in a rush since I am suddenly extravagantly thirsty) I make my way down the stairs face first, farting up a storm as I leave a little trail of digested air behind me. I get over to the drinking pool and thrust my head in, lustfully swallowing water.

I thrash around a bit, partly to enjoy the sensation and partly to make sure some good air builds up from the evaporating droplets. That’s one thing you have to be careful about in a house or enclosed space—making sure you don’t just end up eating your own farts all day. As I turn to get back to bed, I am careful not to jostle any contaminated air into the pool. Fortunately, the house has kept the air from settling in much to speak of, and I can wiggle rapidly back up into my little bed. I curl around, belatedly farting a few last bits off the edge, and fall back into a deep slumber.

I am holding my child on my lap. At another end of the island a huge water spout shoots whales, octopi, dolphins and all manner of fish into the sky before they crest and turn, writhing belly up and over to crash into the oceanic swirl below. She will never see it, or maybe we will go. I don’t know what they do without me, but I have never seen her there. I think it is “her” but it’s hard to tell. They seem to shift in the light. The viewing platform is clear plexiglass mounted far above the crashing waters, and the vertigo is incredible to newcomer and regular observer alike. The child’s hair is impossibly fine, rather straight and long, and catches the sunlight in myriad spectral rainbows like the mists coming off the ocean’s fountain. Strawberry blond.

It’s force surges and subsides, tidal, and once in a storm it came up much higher than usual and destroyed portions of the viewing tower. Several fish were asphyxiated when their bodies landed on portions of the all-clear structure, which allows viewing from the beach level as well as over the sandy cliff and out across the spout itself, with clear-enclosed clear stairs carrying the sturdiest sort up the several stories the spout typically runs to wonder at the creatures in its midst. A whale, gutted by a jagged edge, pulled streamers of intestine and blood down after their fading form. Then a lot of sharks came and the spout was red for a while. No humans were harmed; tours are suspended in stormy weather. Sunset typically serves for excellent viewing. The colors are incredible in the golden hour, and the water is the clearest as the sun lips over the horizon, its diffuse light lingering to silhouette all the creatures, even the transparent jellyfish and bits of waving seaweed you’d hardly notice in the full light of the sun.

The child seems impossibly thin, but healthy, and is certainly content to allow my fingers to caress and arrange their hair in endless wind-strewn styles, muttering and manipulating the doll in their lap. Strange this child has tattoos. The ancestors are furious, of course, and the dreams seem punishment for my lack of an attempt in the physical world. What have I willed my body to do? But the child is happy and I will be too, in a few days when the dream subsides. I am rocked in the waves of time. Attempting control would be foolhardy, but the permanent marks on our skins coalesce into near-matching maps. I have three new tattoos, and I noticed a new mole near my belly button.


This time I awaken for good, and sunlight streams impossibly around the curtains and bursts in the air across my face. I am pretty hungry now, so I nibble at the accumulation until I have room to lunge across the bed, grab the pull cord with my teeth and yank it back. The window tips open and with it air cascades in. I let it move through my bedchamber, coursing my farts down the ladder-like stairs that suspend from the lofted platform and into a corner by the door. Jackpot. You know you’ve got your window systems right when the natural coursing of the air pushes the waste into consolidated pockets that can be swept out with the wind. Coordination with the breezes that spring up in the late afternoons can be tricky. The briskness of those is actually strong enough to push everything through, rather than just filling the room with new bits of air, but the timing is not always predictable.

You’ve got to be hungry if you want to clean, though, because it inevitably involves a lot of eating, and depending on the content of absorbable nutrients confined in the dusts, pollens, yeasts and insects in that particular wind, you can get full just making one trip across the room to close and open the windows. I personally have partially mastered this problem by having my windows on a system of pulleys and chords, which I can operate from a standing position near the center of the room. A counterweight installed on the window frame helps to facilitate movement when the air is thick and not moving through quite as you’d like. Timing, I’ve found, is everything. Normally, the late afternoon winds correspond with rush hour, so it’s important to clean before the air gets too contaminated by the traffic.

That’s why I’ve always thought the commuter lifestyle is just too unhealthy, since they always wound up getting home too late to avoid the smog-laced air. Their commutes were forcing them to eat a higher percentage of their own stinking dust. Digesting that day after day takes a toll. Of course, they get the freshest air in the mornings, and perhaps that counteracts the deleterious effects of eating smog for dinner. There has been attempts to introduce more nutrients into the vehicular fuel, to limit the outbreaks of Whooping Belch and Partially-Blind Tongues, and some progress has been made in that direction. The issue, as these more experimental communities found out, was that adding more nutrients did give schoolchildren, those without shelter and regularly nutritious air (not to mention the commuters themselves) greater health, but the added caloric intake caused massive routs of obesity in the privileged classes. Of course, they could not be compelled to change their routines or go outside and limit their consumption to the common air of commuters. That kind of monotony could not be allowed to instill itself upon their lifestyles, so the breakthrough was largely abandoned.

Shows how smart we are, literally eating our own pollution and suffering for it. May as well eat our own “air castings,” the socially acceptable term for farts. Some more advanced inventors, absent during the prime hours, have installed timers on the pulleys of their windows, but there’s no real way to know when the best air is going to be blowing in except to look. It’s also always risky to open any windows unsupervised, as your house might get so full of air on a particularly brisk afternoon that it rearranges the furniture. Since I’m home all day anyway, I like to surprise my girlfriend (yes, a dreaded commuter) with a nice variety of airs for dinner. I’ve been getting quite a knack for it. I like to give my girl a boutique selection for dinner every night, since she’s pulling in the bucks. I think this is partially to vary what is otherwise repetitive workdays, and also perhaps an excuse and balm for my inside lifestyle.

“Hey, I’m home,” she says as she swallows her way inside.

“What’s up, how was your day?”

“Urgh, I’m so sick of freaking commuting. It’s just like, great, here I am sitting in my own farts for two hours, swimming in smog, and then the air at the office sucks, and it’s just like, even the best I can get is suck. In fact, it is consistently suck. We have a new purifier dispenser in the break room, but it’s not very efficient and it’s always running out of air by the time I take my lunch. Like, if the managers really cared about us they would have recognized that the schematics for that machine can really only handle a couple of families worth of people’s needs, and not a whole freakin office.”

“Wait they got a residential dispenser to replace the old one? Oh my gosh honey that’s ridiculous. Have you said anything?” I asked.

“Well, you know I would, but I already used up all my complaints for this quarter on the whole air-roaches-and-Steve fiasco right at the beginning of the year, and it’s like, I basically have to whore myself out to get an extra complaint, I mean, we all know who gets the extra complaints in the office, it’s the exec sectaries, or people who want to be in the exec branch so they wear the short skirts and caress the egos and convulse appropriately and you know I can’t handle that shit babe.”

“Damn babe, I’m sorry,” I say as I lick the air off a chair and she maneuvers to sit down and drops heavily onto the seat. “Do you need to take a swim? I haven’t been splashing around too much today, the pool should still be pretty nice.”

She closes her eyes and nods a little, fighting her emotions. I start to fuss around in the rest of the kitchen, arranging the air for dinner and generally trying to take her mind off things.

“I caught a little treat that I think is almost pure cherry-blossom air for dessert tonight babe, It seems like this is the week for it,” I said.

“That’s nice,” she mutters as she starts to undress. I lock the door to the kitchen, in case our roommate is around, and bring her a little tray of snack air as she slithers into the pool. “Mmmmm…. How was your day?” she asks and starts to nibble contentedly.

“It was ok, I slept in and had some crazy dreams. I’m starting to put some of the consistent details of my dream world into a type of cohesion, and the dream I had after I fell back asleep this morning has given me some clues. I feel like I’m dreaming of a past self. Like, way in the past, like I’m pretty sure I never eat air in my dreams. You just walk through it like water. This morning I had a dream about being a mother, and I was like a human before the pandemic forced us to evolve.”

“Whoa, that’s crazy. How do you know you were a mom?” my girlfriend asks sleepily.

“Not sure, it’s like, um, I don’t know how to explain this. Dreams are so weird. It’s like, I have fingers, and everyone has way more hair. Our arms and legs are separate, like strands of seaweed. You’ve seen the pictures. And there’s this crazy fountain with all sorts of sea creatures just getting pushed up into the air, like as tall as the hugest house you’ve ever seen, they just get thrown up and crash back down in the most beautiful arching motion constantly, and there’s this all-clear observer tower thing next to it, and my kid had so much hair that I could like, twist it together into different shapes and knot it together. I don’t really know what that whole thing with the hair was. Not sure how I knew it was my kid, just had a feeling. And they had a little doll that looked like them, and it was like a doll-child on my lap with another doll on its lap and on and on. And they had the same tattoos as me! I dunno. It was wild.”

“That’s nice, babe,” she said, and put her face under the water to drink.

“Ew, you’re gonna drink that water?” I asked as she resurfaced.

“Who cares, what difference does it make,” she asked. “I’m a disgusting human. I’ve been chomping smog air and marinating in my farty, sorry, my ‘air-casting-y’ car and having hate-filled thoughts about exec sectaries and all the stupid not-secret boners the bosses have. Plus, I’m just too lazy to wiggle over there right now, and I’m naked and I just want to freakin relax, ok?”

“Ok, ok, you don’t have to get upset.”

“I’m not upset.”

“That’s good.”

“I just feel exhausted, I don’t know how much longer I can commute.”

“I feel you babe. And, by the way, you’re not a disgusting human being. You’re a wonderful, lovely, freaking sex wiggle of a human being and I would be enchanted to so much as marinate in farts like yours,” I teased.

“Oh my god, you’re so silly,” she said, and sank back beneath the water, munching on her air. At least she was smiling.

Eva Hannan, ’22, Oakland, CA