Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mr. Brain and the Dereliction of Beauty

By Ezra Pines

He followed the striking woman with his eyes, then his feet, and re-entered the mezzanine to Trunk Tower, so-named because the marvelous edifice was a vast elephant's head with its nose extending straight upwards, and with its great earflaps outspread to hold tennis courts, promenades, barbers, boutiques, groomers, and spit-and-polishers — all readily accessible to those who could pass through iron gates that were like ear-follicles between the ear-flaps and the mezzanine, and that, too, were like strainers that sifted the Beautiful from those otherwise.

"Who do you think that woman is?" said Mr. Brain.

"Not a palm tree," said his pocket philodendron.

"I think she must be important, with an office in the upper trunk."

"Nor do I think she is a potted cactus," said the plant, "although I suppose those strands across her head might be wilted spines."

"That is what caught my eye — so that I lost concentration while practicing my supercilious lip-twitches. How wonderfully red is her hair!"

"And not a horsetail. I know my horsetails. She would need a squishier carpet, to thrive as an equisetum."

"And how nicely she keeps it combed over that dome covering her brain! And how high a dome it is!"

"Yoo-hoo, Mr. Brain!"

"Do I know you?"

"And this is not a potted cactus, either — "

"Yes it is," Mr. Brain said to the leaves flowing from his lapel pocket.

" — though prickly," said the philodendron.

"Phil knows me," said the cactus.

"Mrs. Brain!" said Mr. Brain. "You choose the most revealing garb! Why are you here?"

"You know well that the beauty technicians will open the gates for you, but not for me. I must wait in the foyer."

"They keep you out because you need no improvement!"

"Liar," said the philodendron. "It is because you paid them to keep her out."

"Pay no heed to my houseplant!"

"My houseplant, you mean. Phil, you should come home with me."

A voice rang from the front desk — "Ms. Posh!" — at which the majestic redhead redirected her upturned nose in that direction.

"By the glowing curlicues of my parietal lobes," whispered Mr. Brain, "she is Trunk Tower's owner!"

"And with that cheap cranial dome," said Mrs. Brain, plucking Fred from his pocket with a spine. "I hear her nose has been shortened," she hissed, and departed.

He barely heard her.


Setting out on his first date with Ms. Posh, Mr. Brain learned that she was a simulacrum of the original, although no one knew exactly which one among the simulacra was the original Ms. Posh. This particular Ms. Posh admitted it might well be she. It seemed in keeping with her tastes that she agreed to ride the pride of Trunk Tower, a roller-coaster that took dives through amusement tunnels giving views of immigrants sweating under a hot sun, hampered in their labors by huge wallets in their pockets stuffed with Corporate America's hardly earned cash; homeless people being turned away from emergency rooms, while insurance peddlers hovered overhead in luxury helicars; and Kansas farmers driving immense corn-harvesters with hammer-and-sickle license plates.

Mr. Brain cried "Oh!" and then "Ah!" — not at the thrilling sights, but at the facial contortions Ms. Posh displayed as the rushing air from the screeching railcar pushed her features into pouts, horrendous frowns, cheek-flappings, chin-furrowings, bullfrog-bulgings, and eyebrow-double-golden-archings, while her tongue wiggled between her pulled-back lips and added a warble to her shouts and screams. In his life he had seen nothing quite so stunningly gorgeous.

The press widely reported that Ms. Posh's brain, too, was captivating. Why, then, did she keep this feature concealed? Might it not be as beautiful as Mrs. Brain's? He always spoke of his wife's brain with candor and truth, to himself as to others. Mrs. Brain had the most enchantingly vibrant cerebral mass he ever had beheld, except in a mirror; and she displayed it properly, beneath exquisite Craniumware Gazeglass.

So when — on a corner turn, as the railcar was rolling from the Mountains of Madness and coasting toward the Sloughs of Despair — a stray gale-blast slightly ruffled the scarlet fringe combed over her cranial dome, he gazed with wonder and anticipation. Her filaments stirred in the rushing air; he felt his synapses burn and snap.

The fringe parted.

His own Gazeglass went gray with smoke.

For as the air whirled and the racing railcar ran another turn, and Ms. Posh's lips vibrated through contortions and pouts, and her tongue pointed and vibrated at a parade of fast-food cashiers wearing red wigs and red noses, he caught glimpses not of Ms. Posh's brain, which he found himself unable to discern, but of her cranial covering. About the practice he had heard, without having seen it in person: for rather than Gazeglass or Diamondpure or Leadcrystalhead, she was wearing an inverted molded-glass egg-mixer bowl with its Walletmart price sticker still affixed. No wonder the dome stood so high: not to contain wondrous moundings; not to protect pilings of sumptuous gray coilings; but to prevent egg-splatterings from egg-whippings, in daily kitchen use.

Distraught and despairing he flung himself from the screeching railcar. His cranial dome shattered on the dirty cement below, although his feelings remained intact. Fortunately a nearby young custodian, who had been playing chess with her vacuum cleaner, had a spare polyethylene dome in her pushcart.

"You won't want to hear the hoots and catcalls out there, if they see you like this," said the smudge-cheeked girl, gesturing out across the wide earflaps that were filled with the Beautiful practicing their posturings. She led him to a service door.

As he exited, one of the Beautiful, who happened to have been exercising her aloofness in this lonely corner, said, "Why, Mr. Brain is leaving us!" She sniffed.

Feeling suddenly a child, he himself sniffed and perhaps something more, and vowed never to return.

"Still, Phil is not here to hear me swear this," he said to himself as he trudged away. "No one would know, should I go back on my vow. As I should! For I want no one to call me derelict in what is mine — at all times! Always! Forever!"

The End