Text: John Westlund Art: Ushiri Stenberg Smoking is healthy part 1
“Before I met Mr Downearth and Freddie, I didn’t know who I was. Life had changed for the worse and there wasn’t much I could do about it. Valerie left, the kids too, and they were never coming back. So I left too; ascended with my new friends.
“In the first year, it felt like my flat was eating me alive. I was suffocating, like an indebted wretch thrown to the bottom of a deep, dark canal. ‘Who am I now?’ The question echoed through the empty space of my room, bouncing off the walls in an endless, erratic dance. Who am I, with my lack of presence? No longer a worker, no longer a father, barely a functioning man. A nobody.
“In the midst of my despair, Mr Downearth appeared. I hadn’t spoken to the fellow in many years, but I vaguely remembered him from the days I spent at the library with my wife. I remembered his smile. His honest, unrelenting eyes. I remembered picking up his books just to put them back down and truth be told, I remembered my desire to stay away, because in his studies he was up to more than I could really bother to understand. I mean, why bother with all of that strange business if you have no reason to escape? Back then that was my one and only truth. But now, I need a new truth. The pining, red-eyed mess of a man I’ve become… he desperately needs something.”
I stand in front of the smoky, bird-footed creature that used to be a man. When I lean down to take a closer look I notice the name tag attached to his robe reading “0001” in neat, black lettering. I turn to Professor Downearth who’s been observing me from a corner of the room.
– Is that him? I ask.
The professor nods. I turn back to the monster to greet him.
– It’s nice to meet you, Kane.
A subtle sound like a stifled laugh. I ignore it and continue:
– I’ve read about you. Can I ask you a few questions about yourself?
– Maybe about your wife? Valerie?
More silence. The professor steps in and puts his hand on my shoulder. He’s smiling, yet I can’t discern the expression on his face as he says:
– Now, what you’re trying to do is very interesting, but it’s no use. He doesn’t know who he is.
– Not at all? I reply.
– So he doesn’t even recognize you anymore?
– He does not, I’m afraid.
– Does that upset you, Professor Downearth?
For a second, his face seems to freeze. Then he smiles even wider.
– The results of the study have been positive, haven’t they? Trust me, there’s no reason to be upset.
As the professor swivels us around to exit the room, the smoke around 0001’s head seems to puff even thicker.