By Jay Lee Ellis
The Hynman brothers rarely came to class together, Sam too nervous, his eyes diving into Eric’s or the prof’s and then jumping out the window and back, then down into the heavy blue underlining and marginalia in his book. Under the conference table Sam’s leg bounced like a boxer warming up. His brother Bill sometimes took his hand to calm him. And when one of the other students lay under the conference table and croaked up through the polished wood about bisexuality, bonobo chimps, comparative higher primate penile length and testicular location, the impracticality of monogamy, and the impracticality of co-education in grade schools, Sam’s eyes widened and a soft high-pitched wheezing noise began to escape from him, rising slightly in volume until Bill took his hand, but Sam pulled it away and stood wringing just the one hand in the air as if to put out an invisible fire crawling up over his wrist, lurched for the door and left. Bill apologized and went out to look for him, wherever he’d hidden himself in the nooks and crannies of cigarette-ashed concrete under the overhanging entryways of the campus buildings.
Bill always told Eric they were identical, though they no longer looked it, and he quickly added, whenever the subject came up, that he shared Sam’s troubles in more than one sense, only not so badly. Eric could imagine it, that before Sam left his brother trailing behind in double packs of cigarettes and pots of reheated coffee, and now all the Thorazine, they must have looked more like twins, instead of merely sharing the typical brother’s similarities that usually take a blurred turn for one of the other of two men from the same womb. If you could imagine Bill homeless, out on the street for six months, or Sam cleaned up and shaven, you could see how identical they might be after all.
Eric finally got Bill to the cafe without Sam. But then it was Bill talking nonstop about the FBI and Operation Sojourner and the Sanctuary Trials and how crazy it was to be crazy and imagining they’re listening to your thoughts but then actually to have them there, you know what I mean, in the fucking bushes outside the fucking windows actually planting a listening device that Sam found. Bill tried to calm him, No, Sam, it’s just some electronic piece of a kid’s toy dropped in the bushes. But the techie friend meant to reassure Sam found it really was a listening device. We were helping people fleeing from slaughter by the wrong government in Central America hide in the fucking basement at our church.
Eric nodded. Listened. Looked for the waitress.
How fucking crazy is that? I mean no wonder he won’t take his Thorazine. He’s convinced they’re trying to control his thoughts. But without it he’ll start to think they really are—through some magical method no one could ever believe—that the whole thing is some crazy fucking plot to keep us from the truth. That all the governments are connected and the missiles for hostages was just for public consumption; a distraction while they turned up cable television to broadcast constant fucking distraction until there’s no more resistance? You should have seen him when we first went down there, Eric. We met everybody important, and Ramirez actually gave Sam a title, some shit in Spanish I still can’t translate. Sam was writing poetry every day about the revolution. But then the hearings started back home, Varelli paying CARP to chuck rocks at Christians. And old Bucky already had us in his sights, the phones really were tapped and the clicking sounds you heard on a call really were the fucking FBI listening in, really were spying on Sam. And me.
Eric started to speak but waited.
They said Bobby Fischer was paranoid—
That guy’s a fucking denier.
—but it turned out he was right about the Russians cheating, you know? I mean, a mind so fine sometimes splits open just enough not only to let in an idea, but then outthinks any objections to it. And we really are on the cusp of something, don’t you think? Fraser’s right about time getting split up into random nothing, even as we think we know more. I mean, under route aggregation you’re still built on the ARPANET and a paranoid need to avoid getting a single connection knocked out, so the whole thing recapitulates the ontogeny of the human brain, any signal vulnerable to influence from its old frightened pathways down to the dark regions of fear and depression. Then we get the possibility of seeing where everybody is at all the time, and you’ve got shadow governments bigger than governments, I mean can you believe they actually used that back in the hearings? Admitted that? You think it’s going to be better now? Now?
You give them too much credit. I mean, Sam does. That’s the problem with being too smart by half and still ruled by fear. I’m sorry, Bill. But you’re saying that’s what’s up with Sam, right? That he lets the fear get over on him?
Let’s it? What if it just does?
Eric stared down at his coffee. No one else much in the cafe and the waitress was avoiding them. The sun found them and Eric shouldered his jacket off onto the back of the chair.
Jesus, it’s warm. Where’s winter?
Bill ignored him. So you tell me. What if the schizophrenic really is being spied on?
Eric wanted to laugh but looked around the empty cafe to avoid it, until he felt the table shaking and looked back and Bill’s eyes had filled up but he was laughing soundlessly, and then, with his booming voice loose in the cafe and Eric, too, laughing, the two of them wiping their eyes.