by David Mitchell
The Attraction Council consisted of three members: the Heart, the Brain, and the Penis. A fourth member, the Soul, was rumored to exist, but so far as the others knew, he never wished to attend a single meeting. The former three were charged with assessing the emotional, intellectual, and physical aspects of any potential mate. It was best if they all agreed, but any two had been known to persuade the third on occasion. Heaven knows there are people for whom two—or only one—were employed at any given time.
The three of them sat at a huge, ring-shaped table in the center of an antechamber made of stone, facing a wall from which an enormous computer monitor protruded. This computer was crudely made from spare parts, and it was constantly updated. There were several familiar input devices, and quite a few unfamiliar ones, attached to cables in the ceiling. A microphone here, a keyboard there, a switch by pillar, a joystick near the brazier. Certainly no one used them all at the same time.
The Penis was usually the first to make up his mind, and often the first to bring a meeting into session, but he seldom had much to contribute beyond that. He was fairly short red-haired fellow, broad-shouldered and muscular, and draped in a loose-fitting toga. He exercised daily, obsessively perhaps, and carried himself with pride. He had a bestial face with brutal features; a large forehead, a wide and cocky grin, and a tuft of wiry red hair protruding from his chin for a beard. Small twisted horns sprouted from his temples, and he had the wooly, splay-hoofed legs of a goat. His face and neck had numerous bruises, though he bore them with as much pride as his muscles. A large eye patch covered his left orbit, and the one eye he did have in his possession was huge and never blinked. Depth perception, he insisted, was overrated.
The Brain would actively debate and devise the best strategies, though he was often the second to show up, and his influence fluctuated. He was once a cyborg of sorts, though it was doubtful if his system still sustained anything organic. He was so overworked all of his outer flesh had long rotted away and some of his mechanical parts began to rust. His head was a heavily modified human skull. His eyes were covered in thick goggles grafted onto his sockets that served as magnifying glasses, enabling him to examine everything in great detail, but at the cost of a more comprehensive picture. His nose and maxillae had been replaced with a bulky apparatus that served as a speaker and a respirator. Though he moved his mandible while speaking (it was held in place by a pair of screws), it was purely through force of habit, for his voice was entirely created by a chip. From the back of his head sprouted a thick tangle of wires, jacks, and cables which resembled a pony tail. Since there was little room to cram everything he needed to know into one tiny human skull, he often attached himself to the computer. To cover his body, the Brain draped himself in a long trench coat. Around his neck he wore a red tie, which he constantly cleaned and adjusted, because who wanted to see a gruesome cyborg that couldn’t look professional?
The Heart was usually the last to show his face at the meetings, and to make up his mind, but he held the strongest influence. He had the voice of a child. His over-large head was also round and childlike. His eyes were a pair of protruding black spheres that could be seen behind his transparent eyelids, much like a newborn mouse. His body resembled a child in the terminal stages of starvation. Much of his skin had been burned away, leaving only scar tissue and exposed nerves. What skin he did have was translucent and porous, like the skin of a fetus or a cave salamander. He wore no clothes, and mostly sat still in his wheelchair, heavily drugged so he could withstand the trip, an I.V. linking him to his various painkillers and other supports. He was incapable of standing by himself, yet he was more resilient than the other two, because he had the ability to regenerate under favorable conditions. But of the three, he was by far the least consistent. Lately he was skipping meetings entirely.
I couldn’t really blame him. Finding someone to share these three organs with is a daunting and complicated task. My heart, brain, and penis had each grown quite accustomed to my ex, and no meeting had been called in a long time. The Council seemed to be in permanent abeyance. The Brain and the Penis tried holding a few informal meetings, but as the Heart couldn’t join them, they went nowhere. Only by November of 2007 had the Heart returned, and the Attraction Counsel was once again in session, even if only tentatively. They spent much of their time discussing Tara Sullivan, but by February they realized she was no longer a likely prospect, so they turned their attention elsewhere.
By March of 2008, the Attraction Council was once again working overtime, engaged in a furious debate. For the first time in my life, I was being quartered by four women at once. All four of my limbs were nearly dislocated, but even if the unthinkable happened, the Heart, Brain, and Penis would still be intact, forever scheming about the possibilities in front of them.
“Alright!” said the Brain as he held up a plastic blue crate filled with manila folders, “we all have a lot of work to do here. So many new prospects, so much data to sort through.”
He plopped the crate onto the table. The Brain thumbed through the folders until he fished out the four most recent files. The Heart, wheeling himself closer, was also quick to dig his hands into the crate—but he was searching for one folder in particular, his favorite one.
“OKCupid hasn’t brought us much luck in the past,” said the Brain, “but these three women have each expressed interest in the last two weeks alone. The first subject we have here to discuss calls herself Lux Eternae. She is 21 years old, lives in Auburn, only 24 miles away. She’s currently putting off a nursing degree, but works at a hospital as a secretary and nurse’s aide. Her MBTI type is ENFJ, at least according to one test. And she’s contacted David. She was intrigued by his profile.”
“Why are even discussing her at all?” sighed the Penis, “I didn’t like her pictures. We could be doing better.”
The Brain turned to the Heart, he was gazing lovingly at a picture of Tara. Despite his near blindness, he knew which picture he was holding.
“What do you think?” asked the Brain.
The Heart smiled wistfully.
“I hope we can hang out with Tara again soon.”
“We aren’t discussing Tara,” said the Brain, “We’re discussing Lux Eternae.”
“We’re not . . . ? Oh. Well, I . . . ”
The Heart just looked back to the picture.
“Hey, I liked Tara, too,” said the Penis, “If that kiss didn’t wake me up, I don’t know what would have.”
“As did I,” conceded the Brain, “But she’s not looking for a relationship now, and that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you two for the last month. Let’s move on, shall we?”
“Oh . . . right . . .” said the Heart, “we should definitely move on . . .”
He was still glancing at the picture, but before long the Brain snatched it out of his hands, stuffed it back into Tara’s manila folder, and replaced it in the plastic crate.
“Do you have anything to say about Lux? Even on the basis of those two IM conversations?”
The Heart shrugged.
“She’s okay, I guess. I don’t really know. She’s been nice so far. I think we should call Tara again. I wonder how she’s doing.”
The Brain sighed. Then he reached for another manila folder.
“Next subject,” the Brain said, “is a 43-year-old single mother who calls herself Lolly. She lives with her 18-year-old son and his girlfriend, and doesn’t intend to marry every again. She works at King Richard’s Faire, hosts tours at Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, and seems to prefer younger men in their twenties. She self-admits to being a ‘cougar’–”
“‘Cougar’ is one term that comes to mind,” said the Penis, “MILF is another.”
” . . . and she’s taken interest in David.”
“Guys, this is never going to happen again,” said the Penis.
The Brain folded his arms and scratched his jawbone.
“Well . . . at least we can say that Lolly is honest. And did you witness what she brought out in him during their IM conversation? He was actually flirting, and beguiling her about as much as she was beguiling him, with the gift of his words, no less.”
“Right,” said the Penis, “So what’s to debate?”
“There are three members of this Council, not two.”
He indicated the Heart.
“So?” said the Penis, “He doesn’t need to be involved at all. Might be a break for him, too. He sure could use one.”
“A true altruist, are we?”
“No, seriously,” said the Penis, “If he’d stay out of everything until it was a sure deal, we wouldn’t have to protect him all the time. Besides . . . Lolly could probably teach us all a little something, don’t you think?”
“What do you think?” the Brain asked the Heart.
The Heart glanced meekly at the Brain and the Penis, like a child who learned to cope with his parents arguing by keeping silent. He was blushing slightly.
“She sure is beguiling,” he said in a soft voice, “but why does this feel like a deal with the devil to me?”
“Oh, I don’t know, prejudice, maybe?” said the Penis.
“Lolly has been quite cordial thus far,” said the Brain, “Even her profile data suggests that she isn’t likely to be a conniving succubus. A cougar, yes, but a benevolent one.”
“Still,” said the Heart, “I think I’m better than that.”
“What?” bristled the Penis, “This is a cougar we’re dealing with here! Selena Steele eat your heart out! And we’re not jumping at this extraordinary opportunity?!”
“Leave him alone,” said the Brain, “we have more subjects to address-”
“C’mon, why are you always taking his side?”
“I don’t even want to think about what trouble we’d have gotten ourselves into if I’d let your stupidity govern all of our decisions! I’m here trying to negotiate the outside world for both of your sakes–”
“For his, mostly,” said the Penis, “Remember what happened last time you decided he was right and you came up with all those ways of meeting his demands? Like pursuing Maria? Rochelle? Dropping off roses at Serissa’s apartment after she moved out? And let’s not forget the flower we almost gave Tara! Every time you let him do this, no matter how innocent the intent, it FUCKS EVERYTHING UP!”
“Failure always precedes success,” the Brain said, “Are you suggesting we simply don’t think as much?”
“Well, yes. Actions speak louder than words.”
“That’s something Serissa loved to say. Are you forgetting what sort of person we are?”
Officially, it was illegal to mention the name of Serissa during council meetings, but no one protested. The Heart probably wasn’t paying attention anyway.
“No, I’m not,” said the Penis, “but sometimes I really wish he were slightly less moral. Or that he didn’t take sex so seriously. I think we all might be more satisfied in that case. Why don’t we all live a little more, you know? So he says he can’t have a one-night stand without getting attached? I doubt it. I think he could, if the terms were made clear from the start.”
“Ah, but when are they ever?” said the Brain.
“What about here?”
“I . . . don’t think I could do this,” the Heart said softly, “not now, not in the long run anyway.”
“So he’s spoken, then,” said the Brain, “This discussion is over.”
The Brain and Penis exchanged venomous glances for a moment, then the Brain placed Lolly’s file back into the crate and drew another.
“Alright, now the third subject,” said the Brain, “calls herself Losang. She is 31 years old, the age of David’s oldest sister . . .”
“What is it with David and these older women anyway?” said the Penis, “Not that I’m complaining or anything.”
The Heart had no reply to give. He just blushed.
” . . . and she lives in the same town, no less. Somerville, a mere 27 miles away. She’s a practicing Mahayanna Buddhist of the Gelung tradition. She’s currently unemployed, but looking for work, and lives with her mother. She listens to much of the same music as David. And her sex drive is putatively higher than his.”
The Brain glanced at the Penis for a second and said, “We have concluded long ago that such a thing is possible. In theory.”
“She sounds like fun,” said the Penis, “I want to meet her!”
“I like her,” said the Heart, his face looking warmer than before, “I think she understands me—no, she accepts me.”
“And perhaps she’s fallen for us already, in a sense,” said the Brain, “I don’t think any of the others have been quite as aggressive, so we must proceed with caution. Nonetheless, the real possibility of meeting her in person will be approaching soon. We’ll have to spend two days of next week in Somerville cat-sitting for Monica anyway, so we might as well take advantage of the opportunity.”
“Maybe she’s the woman I’ve been waiting for all this time,” said the Heart.
“Me too . . .” said the Penis.
“That’s . . . all good and well,” said the Brain, “and I don’t want to play Devil’s advocate here, but I should point out a little bit of concern I’ve been having about Losang. Quite frankly, she seems too good to be true. Material success was never our primary objective, but she seems to be even less interested in the material world than David, and that’s not a good thing. She’s a college drop-out. Do we know if she plans to do anything aside from attending classes at the Dharma center, metal shows, cat-napping, and smoking green?”
“She’s a blood donor, too,” said the Heart. “I sure could use one. And she walks the neighbor’s dog.”
“Probably,” said the Penis, “Either way, you’re outnumbered, so fuck you.”
“Um . . . well, onto the fourth subject,” said the Brain, as he reached for the last file in the crate, “Her name is Karolina. She’s 29 and goes to the same church as David and his mother, though they’ve never met. His mother apparently gave her his cell phone number after hearing her complaints about not being able to find any good men. But she hasn’t called and we have no further data on her at this time.”
“Great,” said the Penis, “You know, I really can’t wait to meet Losang.”
“Losang!” the Heart said giddily, “She’s so compassionate! Om Svasti!”
The Brain knew when his voice wouldn’t be heard. But they would listen to him again eventually. He closed Karolina’s folder and decided it was time to adjust his red tie again. And a second, third, and fourth time in the same minute.
While wandering the mystical, labyrinthine woods of cyberspace, I rode a white horse. My horse was barded in blue-green plating. My armor, 15th century Gothic by design, also had a blue-green tint: the cuirass, pauldrons, greaves, and vambraces. My helmet was a sallet with a jawbone visor and a pair of wings at the top. When the visor was up-turned, the bevor still covered my chin, but you could otherwise see most of my face. Over my armor I wore a blue tabard adorned with an Ichthys. In my right hand I held not a lance (which would have been no use in a forest), but a goblet. I was certainly a knight-errant of sorts. I’d long forgotten who sent me on my mission in the first place, where I was supposed to go, or who I was supposed to deliver the goblet to. I sat with impeccable posture, always gazing at the empty cup. I never rode quickly, but my horse never seemed to stop either, so I usually had to keep him in a light trot.
Tonight, however, he had a very good reason to stop. To my right was a shoreline I could see a good distance away through the leaves and branches, and to my left was a dark and shallow cave under the roots of a gigantic tree. Gazing out from the cave were the beautiful eyes of a large cat. We stopped and stared at each other in mutual fascination, me in the sunlight, her in the shadows.
“Busy?” the cougar asked. Her voice was patient, relaxed, and utterly confident.
“No, not exactly,” I said with a smile.
“How are you doing?”
“Well . . . I’ve found myself in a most peculiar situation,” I said.
“I’m listening . . .”
“I’m being wishboned between two women at once. It’s never happened before in my life.”
“I don’t understand. You’re pulling a wishbone . . . ?”
“I’m the wishbone!”
“Oh? How do you find it?”
“Kind of flattering, really. A little frightening, too.”
“Ah. Well, human nature being what it is, I have to ask . . .”
The cougar flicked her tail a bit.
“Am I one of them?”
“Oh, but of course,” I said.
“Well, I’m not really sure what to do. The other one seems to be really into me already.”
“Ah. Well, human nature being what it is, I have to ask . . .”
The cougar placed her paw outside the cave, as if stretching.
“Is this other one younger than me?”
“Older than me!” I said. Then I added, “She’s the age of my oldest sister.”
The cougar’s claws became visible for a moment, then she retracted them.
“Still . . . nonetheless . . . younger than me. It would make no difference to me if you pursued us both. Does your friend know about me?”
“Well, I mentioned you once. She seemed kind of ambivalent.”
“In other words, you’re worried that you might drive her away because of your association with me?”
“I understand. I’m not at all angry, you know.”
Maybe I was visibly tense to the cougar, I’m not sure. My visor was up, but my armor was still on. Nonetheless, I sighed in relief.
“Would it be best for you if I left you alone?” she said after a moment.
“I wouldn’t want you to go,” I said.
“I wouldn’t want to go either.”
“Well, in that case, I really hate to admit it, but probably, yes.”
“I understand. It has been pleasure to talk with you, even for the brief time that we did. If you ever feel comfortable enough to talk with me again, please feel free to do so.”
“Thank you,” I said, “I’ll do that.”
My horse had been turning slowly and anxiously at various intervals for some time now, so I pulled harder on the reigns and made my way toward the shore, onto the beach, and into the sea. Along the way, my horse metamorphosed into a hippocamp, the front hooves sprouting fins and back legs fusing to transform into a fish’s tail. I was making my way toward Somerville, seeking my heart’s desire.
Now it was time to call Losang. The computer decided to close our Instant Messenger window at random intervals and toss me out of OKCupid altogether, so feeling frustrated, I picked up my cell and went downstairs. There was no air conditioning in the computer room, and I’d had enough of it. I found myself reclining on the futon in my cozy basement, talking on the phone, to my amazement, with another woman who would not judge me. I was pleased to find out that her I.Q. must have been at least 50 points higher than what her online syntax suggested. She spoke with a faint New England accent and tended to giggle randomly. There was a genuine human kindness behind her voice, and a complete lack of pretension. This voice contained the wisdom and humor of someone who knew what it meant to suffer, but not to become cruel or jaded. Of course, I didn’t like most women, but I spoke to her for hours, and effortlessly.
“I don’t either,” Losang chuckled. “My friends are all guys.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t try to play the game of pretending that I’m what they should want or wasting my time going after beautiful women who’re constantly being hit on.”
“You’re what I want,” she said. “You’re hot, you’re sweet, you’re smart, and you have good taste in music . . .”
Losang was referring to the photo she’d seen on my profile, where I was wearing a Blind Guardian shirt. She told me I looked hot in that shirt, and that it would look even better on her floor. Only by happenstance had she come across it. Inevitably, at some point, I mentioned Serissa, though I tried to stop myself.
“Hey, it’s alright,” she said. “I care, OK? If talking about it is what it’s going to take to get it out of your system, then go ahead. My purpose is to attain enlightenment and free all motherly sentient beings from suffering. I never refuse a friendship from anyone, unless they’re trying to kill me or something. My ex is my best friend now, and I like him better that way.”
“I wish I could be friends with my ex,” I said.
“I wish you could too,” she said sadly. “I was with him for seven years, then, April Fool’s of all days, he breaks up with me. He said he’d just as soon fuck a stranger off the street. That was more painful than anything I’ve went through, and my dad died when I was 14 of a brain tumor, let me tell you.”
“That sort of reminds me of something my friend Tara told me,” I said, “We were sharing our shitty breakup stories. Her younger brother died in a horrible car accident some time ago, but she said it was even more painful when her ex broke up with her, and she felt shitty about that, too, because she didn’t know why.”
Losang seemed thoroughly delighted by all of my insight, though eventually, I got back to Serissa. I told her a little about Serissa’s abusive background, her spiritual crisis, and the hell she put me through during the last two months of our relationship. Speaking openly about it wasn’t difficult, but I was trying to kick my habit of revealing everything at once.
“I feel so bad for her—well, I feel bad for both of you, but still.”
“When I lost my substitute teaching job in March,” I explained, “I was feeling horrible enough about it, but then my ex sent me an email ultimatum: I had to tell her in 24 hours what my new plans were to find another job, get a car, and move out of my parent’s house. ‘I don’t know’ wasn’t an acceptable answer, and if I didn’t reply in that time, she’d take it to mean I had no further interest in her or the relationship. It’s not like I wasn’t already concerned about all of those things anyway, so I called her up, crying, not knowing what the hell was going on. She said she was feeling like some sort of sick combination of mother, chauffer, chef, babysitter, and whore.”
“That’s a pretty abusive thing to say to someone you profess to care for.”
“Uh . . . what?”
“I said that’s a pretty abusive thing to say to someone you profess to care for.”
A beat. Verbal Abuse. I’d heard the term before, but all of the sources describing this occurrence used the male pronoun to denote the abuser, and the female pronoun to denote the victim, with the occasional cursory note that the genders were sometimes reversed.
“You still there?” she asked.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m still here,” I said, “I’m just little stunned. I mean, you’re right and everything. I just never really put it into those words.”
“Ah, if you were here right now,” I said, “I’d hug you.”
“Awww . . .”
“And silly me, I’d probably get too excited and want to do more.”
“I wouldn’t stop you.”
David Mitchell writes like the lovechild of J.R.R. Tolkien and Woody Allen in a world where swordplay and sexual humiliation frequently co-exist, placing a poultice on our psychic wounds with his wit and grace. Oh, and he knows a lot more about dinosaurs than you do. He welcomes your comments on “The Attraction Council” at barlowe2003[at]yahoo.com.
photo by wickedsoul