A sequence by Ben Fama
1280 x 768, 60Hz
John and Mary meet.
What happens next?
They flirt through text and social media, grafting their lust onto a tenuous mutual experience they shared at Avenue in the Meatpacking District during a mutual friend’s birthday: someone bumps into Mary, causing her to spill vodka onto her handbag a moment before John was introduced to her. She remains lighthearted about it, so the misfortune became the topic of their conversation. John dabs the orange leather clutch with cocktail napkins and orders a replacement drink. Because they’re New Yorkers, they discuss the neighborhoods they live in, what they do for work, and where they like to hangout. John studied business, lives in the East Village and works for a digital media company, Mary studied psychology, lives in Tribeca and consults for an online shopping website. They share music and food as hobbies. Mary enjoyed the recent Diego Rivera exhibition, which John hadn’t seen. John had always believed he would own a business, and they laugh at how, just 5 years ago, they wouldn’t have imagined being on the career path they currently follow. John loves craft beer, and writes articles “for obnoxious partying males,” as he puts it. Mary’s clients don’t follow trends, but instead are devoted to unique or high fashion. As dutiful and educated employees whose work only benefits a detached board of owners, what else are they do but to ironize their existence? They like going to brunch, though John had that day just bought equipment to brew pour-over style coffee which he was eager to try. The next morning they both did. And maybe that first night home, his head between her legs, Mary moaning with pleasure, John saw into the future. Check-in for a free appetizer. Traceable spending habits. Human behavior indicating a belief that world has already ended. Their affective decision-making acknowledges no linearity, making John and Mary normative consumer models regarding their shifting sense of morality vis-a-viz nihilistic indulgence. They’re just like us. John comes into money after his father dies, and he purchases an apartment in a luxury condo building they watched being built. They move in together and become engaged, wedding a year later. Mary wants a child. Six months into their marriage John discovers he has a low sperm count, though treatments are available. After two years of no luck they accept their lot. Now age 31, Mary begins spending more time away from John, staying out late drinking with co-workers or friends she met at a continued learning course on wine, or taking the car alone on weekends to visit her mother in Pennsylvania. Soon after, she moves out and asks for divorce. John takes a job managing assets for a bank in New Jersey and relocates to Montclair. After two years Mary is living with a boyfriend in Lancaster. John and Mary don’t really speak.
He doesn’t get the job, but thanks her for the chance to talk in a follow up email. A few months later they run into each other at a pool party in Echo Park. He has since found employment as a copywriter at a similar agency and plans on staying indefinitely. She confides they hired the niece of a board member, who has already left the company for another job. Mary has another party to go to and asks John to find her online. John does, and they are able to learn about each others social habits, friend group, eating patterns and lifestyle, and occasionally comment on each others activity, though they never see each other in real life again.
John and Mary enjoy a passionate relationship for many years, living together in Montreal. John is a novelist, teaching literature in a college. Mary is a very successful commercial producer working in advertising. One day, after doing laundry together, John comes out to Mary as transgender. She reacts poorly, accusing John of being gay. John, now known as Jesse, says she has been living a lie her entire life and needs to restart in order to thrive. Against the wishes of her family, Mary agrees to give it a try, becoming a big supporter of Jesse while helping her adapt to the nuances of clothing and makeup. Their honeymoon period is tested when Jesse loses her position at the college over concerns about her transition. Mary discovers she is pregnant, though doesn’t make a disclosure to Jesse, and succumbs to depression after secretly having an abortion. She leaves Jesse, ultimately marrying and having a child with a man. Jesse begins dating and moves in with her girlfriend Madge, though remains deeply in love with Mary, “the love of her life.” Jesse sends Mary a copy of her new book, whose themes and symbolic disclosures resonate with Mary and convince her to agree to a tryst with Jesse, under the cover story of working on a commercial on the desolate and romantic Isle of Black. They spend the weekend with a post-op trans couple, and Mary is once again unable to cope with the realities of life with a trans woman. They fight, and Mary confesses the abortion to Jesse. They part ways once again. Despite being homeless, childless, middle-aged and loveless, Jesse thrives as an award-winning author, and continues publishing. In a lengthy newspaper feature, stable and relatively secure, Jesse feels proud to age as a woman. In a daytime meeting in a Montreal bar during a leafy autumn, ten years after their first break up, Mary teases Jesse for living a life suspended above the ground with her thoughts in the sky. Jesse reacts defensively, and they have a brief but serious conversation exemplary of the disharmony that troubled their relationship as Mary was never able to comfortably accept living her life with who Jesse truly is. Jesse exits the bar alone after paying the bill while Mary is in the bathroom.
They sing karaoke and really seem to like each other, John going so far as to think an unseen force brought them together over a mutual love of music they discovered in the elevator at work. Talking together late one night with friends, Mary says she doesn’t believe in true love, a discussion that becomes the primary obsession of their relationship. Turns out, in this story, that John is correct, but they are an inappropriate match. Their patchy fling ends as Mary meets a new man for whom she genuinely feels both lust, affection and intellectual affinities. John limps into a new relationship with a woman named Jane as autumn begins.
They begin a powerful affair, like birds caught in a thermal, from a very young age. Never marrying on principle, though effectively life partners, John and Mary live out a happy, dedicated relationship well into their thirties. Mary, visiting a fertility doctor after “having trouble,” and feeling ill from the stress of trying to conceive, discovers that not only is she infertile, but after a series of referrals and on-going tests, she learns she’s got stage IV stomach cancer. Her condition isn’t operable. John and Mary are devastated. John discovers a treatment—gray market—being developed in Switzerland, an artificially intelligent organic cell structure called Accellate, which attacks and eradicates harmful cells, regenerating body tissue and cell mass. Not much is known about it. They risk it all. John and Mary disinherit themselves of life as they’ve lived it. Six months later Mary is healed and virile, essentially in the dawn of her existence. Years pass pleasantly, they celebrate milestones in their relationship. Putting aside Mary’s on-going desire for children, they decide to embrace their union as an end-in-itself. John celebrates his 50th birthday. Mary has ceased to age. She’s taken to a diet of raw foods, green juice, yoga. She keeps a low profile making house visits for under-the-table body work in Orange County, while John has stabilized their income, making investments in the tech industry. Called to Zurich for a 20 year study of Accellate patients, John and Mary’s observations are acknowledged: Mary’s body isn’t decaying. Versions of Accellate have been developed to function in a more organic mode, though physicians plan to proceed with what they’ve seemingly discovered: the tonic for eternal youth. Testimonies are being prepared with a team of lawyers. They tell Mary and John they have a celebrity spokesman who has since received Accellate and is ready to make a bold public announcement. Meanwhile, the International Court of Justice subpoenas the physicians for malpractice for their unregulated testing on humans. Mary and John settle the terms of a payout and move to Tangier. As Mary thrives, John sinks into a deep depression as he passes through middle age. Mary begins taking lovers. Men’s sexual enhancement medicine carries them through the onset of erectile dysfunction in John’s fifties. Failing that, in desperation, he has surgically implanted a hydraulic, inflatable prosthesis which Mary immediately rejects. John grows old, now so obviously a mismatch, their relationship purely platonic. The day before John’s 72nd birthday, at a hotel on the Bay of Tangiers, John discovers Mary is 4 months pregnant and plans to have the child. The next morning John wakes before Mary and watches the sunset one last time from the edge of the bluffs, then enacts the conclusive end of his life, as he lived it, with Mary.
Ben Fama is the author of the artist book, Mall Witch, as well as several chapbooks and pamphlets. His first full length book of poems, Fantasy, is published by Ugly Duckling Presse.