In a vain world obsessed with television, one unlikely man finds himself in battle against his emotions, oppressors and his own megalomania.
Al’s clothes shimmer like serpent skin, leaving a trail of white wherever he leaps on stage. At the end of his pendulum arm is his healing gun: right hand with sharp index and middle finger extended, and thumb curled up to heaven. It presses heavy on an old woman’s temple. She is bent at the knees before him like a virgin ready for some ancient ritual of sacrifice. She looks ready to have her head bitten off. I have seen this all before.
The other hand clasps the forearm like an eagle does a snake. A crucifix swings heavy from Al’s fat, pulsating neck. His tie glitters in an orgy of twinkle beads.
“His tie is like the stars in heaven,” a worshipper next to me observes.
“Jesus,” he cries or maybe commands. “Save this woman from her pain. Jesus can hear you, my friends. Say it with me. Praise Jesus, save her Lord. Praise Jesus, save her Lord!” Around the stage hot lights press down on Al’s tender skin. There is so much sweat on him, I think he looks like butterscotch pudding.
The young boy at the drums begins a roll. The black women in yellow togas hum their mournful tune. And Al begins to gyrate. He uses the massive hips to stir the air around him. They wobble atop their thin legs, sending ripples of fat rolling from ass to chin. There’s nearly enough motion for the orbiting mounds to have their own gravity.
“The hips do churn us up a spell right,” I hear someone mumble.
In their greatest swing, the hips seem to whisper, “And a one-a. And a two...” before the lightning of God himself crackles through the compound and into Al’s head, and through the traffic jam of his forearm, through his gun finger tips and surging into the temple of the elderly woman. The compound leaps to their feet. That special effect gets them every time.
“Pow!” he trumpets. His body recoils. The elderly woman is torn across the room, shaking.
“She gonna vomit?” Someone in the crowd asks, wishfully.
“She been elec-ter-kewded!” one boy hollers. Hovering about is the sharp scent of breath and sweat.
Yet Al answers no cry nor appears to hear them at all. He stands patiently, arms outstretched ready for a hug from Jesus. His palms are open and he is chanting.
The old lady writhes on the stage. The babel about me settles and we watch in awe. Her seizures look magic. She and God are dancing the polka.
“She is touched by the rapture of God’s healing powers.” I say. Al likes it when I play along.
“Jesus,” we whisper. “Jesus,” we say again.
Al the preacher comes to her and rests his hands on her head. His delicate touch redeems her composure. The whole compound is set on pause, beholding her happy eyes’ awakening. The vacant stare and corpse body are gone. She smiles and is younger, somehow.
“The lights are back on in her house,” he calls to us. “And she’s home again!” The organ bursts with a sudden attack from fingers, and the black yellow women sing in glee. She, the once frail elderly thing, leaps to her feet and dances. Her arms flap like the wings of a chicken. Around me relief swells and releases and then swells again, like a fading tide. I cannot help but get up and dance, nor can anyone else. People smile at me and we say “Praise Jesus,” together, or we say, “God bless you.” It is a feel-good family even. They are drunk on the spirit of the Lord.
Subtle men weave through the aisles and pass baskets holding some money, and when the subtle men get their baskets back, there is considerably more money in them.
For a while the hot lights still blaze and the compound still goes on with the singing and dancing, and the elderly woman flaps. I look for Al, but he is gone, and I know he awaits in his underground bunker. In it I know he looks in the mirror some more, and removes the thick layers of makeup required to cover the red spots that his face powders make grey. They are red stains of dead-flesh bubbling to the surface.
I creep through the chaos of cheering and contorting flesh into the darkness, into the dressing room, where Al is sitting naked. The room is pink and soft, decorated in feathers and gold lace bought from over-priced trend-shops. I cannot help but think it feels a bit like the inside of a peculiar mouth. Through his many coloured mirrors he sees me, and extends a curled finger to beckon me in. He turns in his chair, flutters his eyes with their new faux lashes, and looks back in the mirrors. A transformation is happening. A new beginning.
“It was a grande show,” I say.
“Yes it was.” Red stockings slide up his leg from the pretty little feet. He sighs in his unmistakable way. “But things aren’t like they used to be.”
Even in intermission he puts on a show. His hands rub some sort of tropical froth on his nipples, while puckering his lips. His legs part just enough to let me see his entire nakedness in the red reflection of a mirror. Al feels my eyes caress his thin tender skin. It nearly makes him gasp. He is the star and I the gazer. He licks his finger tips.
“It’s television, Faithless. People sit dead and staring at it all their lives these days. What I’m doing here is art. People don’t know art. They don’t understand it. I try so
hard – “
”I know you do,” I say, consolingly.
“I try so hard to give their lives meaning. In my compound everyone is a star. But my numbers are down. No one wants to sit and pay me attention anymore. I’m nearly a relic! It’s so tragic I can barely stand it.” His sharp fingers place a massive mane of hair on top his head with surgical accuracy. “The televisions are eating away our brains. And what do we give them our minds for? There’s no more stories. There’s no love, Faithless. You show a person a love story, and I’ll show you a truly happy person.”
“I think some people are happy.”
“Oh, listen to me ramble on. I need a drink. Would you fetch me that bottle on the table? It’s made just for me by one of my adoring fans. It’s drugged, I think. Only a little and it makes everything all right.”
“I know a person who watches it, but her mind doesn’t seem to be eaten away,” I say as he takes selfish gulps.
“Well, I would never be caught dead watching it. There’s no drama, no life.” He stands and nearly topples over. The alcohol is already loosening the strained joints. He turns his bulbous, naked body to me. His wet red lips part slowly, letting just the slightest puff of gassy liquor escape. His lips are an event. The breath burns in my nose. “Faithless, button me up, would you?”
From a rack of hanging clothes I take the black dress with soft white flowers that he always wears for act two. I kneel, much like the elderly woman, and let him step into it, then slide it up his thin bird legs, and over his swollen mass and up over his tits. “Al, I have met a girl.” I say. Gently, my cumbersome fingers button down the back.
“I know.” He says, sighing again.
“It’s been all over TV.”
“I thought you said you don’t watch television.”
“You follow her everywhere.”
“Yes, I know you think so. How did you put it? Ah! ‘You’re beautiful, baby.’”
”Don’t remind me. I remembered it from that love movie you gave me. I don’t even know why that popped into my head.”
“Because I’m always on your mind, perhaps? You know, that movie is an antique. You ought to be careful with it. They don’t make love movies anymore.”
“She said she remembered me. That’s something; isn’t it?”
“‘Let me show you a world of pleasure you could never dream of,’” Al goes on, rolling his head about, and his eyes and hips.
“She’s a beautiful woman.”
His foggy eyes look me in the face. “She’s a monster, Faithless, and she’s been on nearly every channel. Do you know how many I’ve been on? One, once, because I was nearly murdered by the alley kids. People need to keep their children on tighter leashes.”
“I remember that. You made a wonderful victim.”
“I’m a wonderful person.”
“So, you said I was on television?”
“Yes, you’re seen around her quite a lot. You can’t live your entire life being in someone else’s shot though, Faithless. That’s all you ever do.”
“I just want her to see me. She always seems to be looking for something, but never sees anything.”
Al rushes his hands up over my body in a desperate jerk. His weight and wig tilt severely back, and he crashes to the ground, laughing. “Tell me I look beautiful, Faithless. Those eyes can see the truth. So tell me.”
“You make a beautiful woman,” I reply.
“Thank you,” he says, closing his eyes. “Will you stay to watch act two?”
“No, I’m nearly sober. There’s a liquor shop that I have to get to soon.” Before I leave, I softly kiss his tired feet, and dress them in a pair of pointed pink shoes.
People are more like birds in this place, fluttering brightly and no where to go.