The father wanted to simplify his life. He was watching an investigative program on television about the effects of meditation. Cognitive scientists studied the brains of monks using powerful machines. These machines detected fewer pulsing squiggles in the monk brains compared to the brains of non-monks. The father was intrigued; he wanted less squiggles in his head. He decided to wake up five minutes earlier to have time to close his eyes and empty his mind after he drank his coffee. He also decided to stop drinking beer. He usually drank two beers, one during dinner and one while he watched television or helped his two little boys do their math homework; the father, an accountant, was skilled at math. But not anymore: no more beers. He told his wife about his new plan. She was pleased. They made love slowly, the way the father liked it.
After a no-beers week of five-minute meditations, the father felt better. There were fewer squiggles worming around his head. He told his wife he needed to extend his morning meditation to ten minutes and to quit smoking his weekly cigar. He also needed to stop eating pork. He was not religious, but the father thought there was something not right about eating pork, that pork somehow generated more squiggles in his brain. The wife was again pleased. What a thoughtful husband she had! They made love even slower.
Several months passed and the father extended his morning meditations to an hour. He no longer ate meat. He drank nothing but water and, on special occasions, a glass of orange juice. He didn’t even think of beer anymore. And he had no interest in sodas. To think he once drank Coca-Cola! How appalling! He no longer watched television but instead spent his evenings gardening and reading Zen riddles. He made love with his wife, at most, once every week. Too much lovemaking creates more squiggles, he thought. His wife, though hurt at first, tried to accept the father’s increasing discipline. The children thought their father was becoming weirder and more boring. The father told his family that he still had a lot of work to do, that his mind could be so much cleaner.
Two years went by and the father was living alone. His wife and children left him when he quit his job and demanded they sell the furniture to make more space. Space for what? his wife asked. Space for our minds to rest, the father said. The wife begged the father to see someone: a therapist, a life coach, his father. Anyone but a monk, she said. The father, undeterred in his quest for greater simplification, told her that he needed to silence the squiggles, every last one. So she and the children left––she got a job designing interactive websites for the blind, one of the boys became a talented defensive back for his high-school team, the other boy grew his hair long and pretended to play the guitar; life went on. The father spent his days sitting in the empty room he rented in a converted warehouse downtown. He rarely opened his eyes.
Another year went by and the father stopped eating. His body shrank. His bones became brittle. A black fly landed on his pinky, and the finger snapped off at the knuckle. The father didn’t notice. He was deep inside his brain, weeding the remaining squiggles diligently. He didn’t care that he no longer had a pinky. He didn’t care that he had stopped eating. He didn’t care that his ex-wife remarried. Her new husband, other than having mild obsessions regarding golf and surfing, didn’t have any signs of the simplification-disease that her ex-husband caught. He made less money than her ex-husband did––he was a longshoreman––and he wasn’t very good at math, but he hugged her sons often and they, in turn, thought their new dad was pretty cool: he had several tattoos and called them dudes. The sons sometimes thought about their old dad, but not very often. They were seven and nine respectively when their mother left him, and they mostly remembered a skinny guy who sat in a corner and asked them how many squiggles they had in their heads. Their lives were uneventful but pleasant.
Time passed and the father decomposed into a few bluish teeth that the new tenant found underneath a mop in the closet––the father had spent his last days in the closet. The new tenant, a heroin addict who, in light of his addiction, was a pretty decent guy who held doors open for strangers and called his Mom at least once a week to tell her that he loved her, walked down the street to the pawnshop in the hopes that the bluish teeth were precious stones that would fund his next score. Fortunately for the new tenant, the pawnshop owner was drunk and gave him twenty dollars for the teeth. The new tenant bought some dope and spent the next couple hours nodding off in a movie theater.
Sobering up, the pawnshop owner realized her mistake and threw the teeth into the dumpster out back where an old woman was sleeping and having a pleasant dream about a world where everyone said Hello. Later, the old woman left for the park to feed the birds, and the garbage men collected the waste in the dumpster and deposited it at a nearby landfill.
At the landfill, the teeth decomposed rapidly, probably because the father was so deep in his compulsion to rid his remaining conscious of any squiggles. What remained of the teeth became indistinguishable from the black goop at the bottom of the landfill, and the father, almost an intangible spirit, realized he was rising. Wow, the father thought, I got really deep into that meditation. He was impressed with himself at first then deeply saddened. He was no longer alive in the sense that he could walk around or play basketball or kiss his sons’ foreheads. He grieved. But then he quickly realized that the squiggles in his remaining consciousness were multiplying at a breakneck pace; he was no longer detached. He was painfully cognizant of the space dust that scratched at him, the debris of decomposing planets, the flaking dust of stars––the universe was trying to merge the father’s remaining atoms with its vastness, but the father rejected the cosmos. No, I can’t allow my consciousness to be consumed, to become one with anything that still has so many squiggles, the father said to no one. I need blankness.
The universe, annoyed with this demanding speck of ego, transported the diminishing remains of the father to its farthest reaches, back to the beginning of creation. But still the father refused to unify with the clouds of not yet condensed hydrogen ions. No, I can’t become part of anything that isn’t absolutely pure, the father said. So the universe flicked the father’s spirit like a flea to pre-Creation, to the Nothingness that remains, hovering. Even in this oblivion, the father rejected the blinding clarity of this non-place and the non-things oozing through him. But then this Nothingness began to feel less like ooze and more like the ten thousand tongues of ten thousand eager puppies, all licking the father at once, until the father finally stopped worrying about the squiggles in his head, letting out one long sigh before he disappeared.
Vincent Poturica lives in Gainesville, FL, but he will soon be moving with his soon-to-be wife to Long Beach, CA. He has worked as a journalist in Sri Lanka and Minnesota. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Baltimore Review, Birkensnake, Bodega, FRiGG, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. He tweets @vpoturica.
Lead image: “Zen Beach” (via Flickr user João Gomes)