David Foster Wallace

 

 

From “Infinite Jest”:

 

His last piece of contact from the appropriation artist, with whom he had had intercourse, and who during intercourse had sprayed some sort of perfume up into the air from a mister she held in her left hand as she lay beneath him making a wide variety of sounds and spraying perfume up into the air, so that he felt the cold mist of it settling on his back and shoulders and was chilled and repelled, his last piece of contact after he'd gone into hiding with the marijuana she'd gotten for him had been a card she'd mailed that was a pastiche photo of a doormat of coarse green plastic grass with WELCOME on it and next to it a flattering publicity photo of the appropriation artist from her Back Bay gallery, and between them an unequal sign, which was an equal sign with a diagonal slash across it, and also an obscenity he had assumed was directed at him magisculed in red grease pencil along the bottom, with multiple exclamation points. She had been offended because he had seen her every day for ten days, then when she'd finally obtained 50 grams of genetically enhanced hydroponic marijuana for him he had said that she'd saved his life and he was grateful and the friends for whom he'd promised to get some were grateful and she had to go right now because he had an appointment and had to take off, but that he would doubtless be calling her later that day, and they had shared a moist kiss, and she had said she could feel his heart pounding right through his suit coat, and she had driven away in her rusty unmuffled car, and he had gone and moved his own car to an underground garage several blocks away, and had run back and drawn the clean blinds and curtains, and changed the audio message on his answering device to one that described an emergency departure from town, and had drawn and locked his bedroom blinds, and had taken the new rose-colored bong out of its Bogart's bag, and was not seen for three days, and ignored over two dozen audio messages and protocols and e-notes expressing concern over his message's emergency, and had never contacted her again.


Orin makes honey-toast, standing barefoot at the kitchen counter, wearing briefs and an old Academy sweatshirt with the arms cut off, squeezing honey from the head of a plastic bear. The floor's so cold it hurts his feet, but the double-pane window over the sink is hot to the touch: the beastly metro Phoenix October A.M. heat just outside.

Home with the team, no matter how high the AC or how thin the sheet, Orin wakes with his own impression sweated darkly into the bed beneath him, slowly drying all day to a white salty outline just slightly off from the week's other faint dried outlines, so his fetal-shaped fossilized image is fanned out across his side of the bed like a deck of cards, just overlapping, like an acid trail or timed exposure.

The heat just past the glass doors tightens his scalp. He takes breakfast out to a white iron table by the condo complex's central pool and tries to eat it there, in the heat, the coffee not steaming or cooling. He sits there in dumb animal pain. He has a mustache of sweat. A bright beach ball floats and bumps against one side of the pool. The sun like a sneaky keyhole view of hell. No one else out here. The complex is a ring with the pool and deck and Jacuzzi in the center. Heat shimmers off the deck like fumes from fuel. There's that mirage thing where the extreme heat makes the dry deck look wet with fuel. Orin can hear cartridge-viewers going from behind closed windows, that aerobics show every morning, and also someone playing an organ, and the older woman who won't ever smile back at him in the apartment next to his doing operatic scales, muffled by drapes and sun-curtains and double panes. The Jacuzzi chugs and foams.


She stared full-frontal at the doctor for several seconds, and the doctor, who'd had all discomfort at being stared at by patients trained right out of him when he'd rotated through the paralysis/-plegia wards upstairs, was able to look directly back at her with a kind of bland compassion, the expression of someone who was compassionate but was not, of course, feeling what she was feeling, and who honored her subjective feelings by not even trying to pretend that he was.
He couldn't keep himself from trying to determine whether the ambient blank insincerity the patient seemed to project during what appeared, clinically, to be a significant gamble and move toward trust and self-revealing was in fact projected by the patient or was somehow counter-transferred or -projected onto the patient from the doctor's own psyche out of some sort of anxiety over the critical therapeutic possibilities her revelation of concern over drug-use might represent.
Joelle's limbs have been removed to a distance where their acknowledgment of her commands seems like magic, both clogs simply gone, no-where in sight, and socks oddly wet, pulls her face up to face the unclean medicine-cabinet mirror, twin roses of flame still hanging in the glass's corner, hair of the flame she's eaten now trailing like the legs of wasps through the air of the glass she uses to locate the de-faced veil and what's inside it, loading up the cone again, the ashes from the last load make the world's best filter: this is a fact.
The real football reason, in all its inevitable real-reason banality, was that, over the course of weeks of dawns of watching the autosprinklers and the Pep Squad (which really did practice at dawn) practices, Orin had developed a horrible schoolboy-grade crush, complete with dilated pupils and weak knees, for a certain big-haired sophomore baton-twirler he watched twirl and strut from a distance through the diffracted spectrum of the plumed sprinklers, all the way across the field's dewy turf, a twirler who'd attended a few of the All-Athletic-Team mixers Orin and his strabismic B.U. doubles partner had gone to, and who danced the same way she twirled and invoked mass Pep, which is to say in a way that seemed to turn everything solid in Orin's body watery and distant and oddly refracted. Orin Incandenza, who like many children of raging alcoholics and OCD-sufferers had internal addictive-sexuality issues, had already drawn idle little sideways 8's on the postcoital flanks of a dozen B.U. coeds. But this was different. He'd been smitten before, but not decapitated. He lay on his bed in the autumn P.M.s during the tennis coach's required nap-time, squeezing a tennis ball and talking for hours about this twirling sprinkler-obscured sophomore while his doubles partner lay way on the other side of the huge bed looking simultaneously at Orin and at the N.E. leaves changing color in the trees outside the window. The schoolboy epithet they'd made up to refer to Orin's twirler was the P.G.O.A.T., for the Prettiest Girl Of All Time.
Tiny Ewell, in a blue suit and laser chronometer and tiny shoes whose shine you could read by, is sharing a dirty aluminum ashtray with Nell Gunther, who has a glass eye which she amuses herself by usually wearing so the pupil and iris face in and the dead white and tiny manufacturer's specifications on the back of the eye face out.
"You might consider how escape from a cage must surely require, foremost, awareness of the fact of the cage."
then with a professionally vicious backhanded motion pegs the gun at Bertraund's profiled head, striking Bertraund in the side of the head; and Bertraund rocks away and then toward and forward and slides forward-left off the rickety camping-chair and with a ghastly and moist thump comes to rest chairless but upright, his left hip on the floor, the eye's sturdy railroad spike's thick tip caught on the edge of the card table and tilted up as the table tilts downward and cookery slides nautically off and onto the tile as the weight of Bertraund's large upper body is somehow held by the spike and tilted table.
Words that are not and can never be words are sought by Lucien here through what he guesses to be the maxillofacial movements of speech, and there is a childlike pathos to the movements that perhaps the rigid-grinned A.F.R. leader can sense, perhaps that is why his sigh is sincere, his complaint sincere when he complains that what will follow will be inutile, Lucien's failure to assist will be inutile, there will be no point serviced, there are several dozen highly trained and motivated wheelchaired personnel here who will find whatever they seek and more, anyhow, perhaps it is sincere, the Gallic shrug and fatigue of the voice through the leader's mask-hole, as Lucien's leonine head is tilted back by a hand in his hair and his mouth opened wide by callused fingers that appear overhead and around the sides of his head from behind and jack his writhing mouth open so wide that the tendons in his jaws tear audibly and Lucien's first sounds are reduced from howls to a natal gargle as the pale wicked tip of the broom he loves is inserted, the wood piney-tasting then white tasteless pain as the broom is shoved in and abruptly down by the big and collared A.F.R., thrust farther in rhythmically in strokes that accompany each syllable in the wearily repeated 'In-U-Tile' of the technical interviewer, down into Lucien's wide throat and lower, small natal cries escaping around the brown-glazed shaft, the strangled impeded sounds of absolute aphonia, the landed-fish gasps that accompany speechlessness in a dream, the cleric-collared A.F.R. driving the broom home now to half its length, up on his stumps to get downward leverage as the fibers that protect the esophagal terminus resist and then give with a crunching pop and splat of red that bathes Lucien's teeth and tongue and makes of itself in the air a spout, and his gargled sounds now sound drowned; and behind fluttering lids the aphrasiac half-cellular insurgent who loves only to sweep and dance in a clean pane sees snow on the round hills of his native Gasp‚, pretty curls of smoke from chimneys, his mother's linen apron, her kind red face above his crib, homemade skates and cider-steam, Chic-Choc lakes seen stretching away from the Cap-Chat hillside they skied down to Mass, the red face's noises he knows from the tone are tender, beyond crib and rimed window Gasp‚sie lake after lake after lake lit up by the near-Arctic sun and stretching out in the southeastern distance like chips of broken glass thrown to scatter across the white Chic-Choc country, gleaming, and the river Ste.-Anne a ribbon of light, unspeakably pure; and as the culcate handle navigates the inguinal canal and sigmoid with a queer deep full hot tickle and with a grunt and shove completes its passage and forms an obscene erectile bulge in the back of his red sopped Johns, bursting then through the wool and puncturing tile and floor at a police-lock's canted angle to hold him upright on his knees, completely skewered, and as the attentions of the A.F.R.s in the little room are turned from him to the shelves and trunks of the Antitois' sad insurgents' lives, and Lucien finally dies, rather a while after he's quit shuddering like a clubbed muskie and seemed to them to die, as he finally sheds his body's suit, Lucien finds his gut and throat again and newly whole, clean and unimpeded, and is free, catapulted home over fans and the Convexity's glass palisades at desperate speeds, soaring north, sounding a bell-clear and nearly maternal alarmed call-to-arms in all the world's well-known tongues.
Q.v. also the wheelchair that now all of a sudden shoots down the hillside's van's ramp as a madly squeaking brass-colored blur, a snowplow-like scoop-type thing welded to it and out front skimming the ground and throwing off chaff from the swath of grass it's mowing, moving terrifically fast, brakes unapplied, the legless figure up on burly stumps in the chair fleur-de-lis-with-sword-stem-masked and bent far forward for a skier's pure speed, the huddled fetal hillside figures the speeding chair slaloms, the dim glittered movements of arrangement for reception deep within the curbside van way at the bottom of the steep grade, the engineer arching his neck way out to capture sun on the scarred hollows under his jaw, the shopping cart with the calculator clipped by a squeaking rubberized wheel at an angle and sent clattering off down the hillside, spraying possessions, the homeless shoe to which it had been roped skittering empty behind it and the cart's now shoeless unconscious owner just waving at the air in front of his face in sleep as if at a bad D.T.-dream of lost shoe and worldly goods, the calculating cart whumping into the side of the hunched man vomiting and flipping over and bouncing several times and the vomiting man rolling and yelping, vulgarities echoing, the WYYY engineer now to be seen hiking himself up on a chill-reddened elbow with a start and starting to turn and look above and behind him up at the ridge just as the speeding wheelchair with the hunched figure reaches him and the chair's shovel scoops the engineer and his NASA blanket and shirt and book up and runs over the glasses and bottle of M. Fizzy with one wheel and bears the engineer in the scoop up and away and down the steep grade toward the idling van at the bottom, a van whose own angled ramp now slides out like a tongue or Autoteller's transaction-receipt, the NASA blanket blowing away from the scooped engineer's flailing form about halfway down and suddenly aloft in a hillside thermal and blown far out over Arlington St. traffic by the keen November wind, the madly squeaking wheelchair aloft over hillside moguls and coming back down and up again, the snatched engineer in the chair's scoop appearing to the hillside's roused figures mostly as a hallucinatory waggle of bare limbs and strangely wheezy shrieks for Help or at least to Look Out Below, all as the modified chair squeaks frantically straight down the hillside's most efficient downward line toward the van with the ramp street, in high-rpm idle, the NASA blanket twisting co-ruscant in the air high above the street, and the shriek-roused figures on the hillside lying there still bent in and barely moving, stiff with cold and general woe, except for the hunched man, the unwell man who'd been hit by the dislodged cart, who's rolled to a stop and is thrashing, holding the parts that were hit.

Back to the database of writers | Send more excerpts | Back to Literature | Home