You Are Watching

In here, most of the books are novels and autobiographies about life in prison. Of course. The selection is voluntarily chosen by the inmates, and we don’t want to dig our holes any deeper. When they ask and show us the catalog of prison books we say, yes, we want to read about our own lives, that would be great. And anyway it is good to see yourself once in a while; there are so many televisions with pretty girls, I like to hear from a sinful man.

They can’t afford to give us a lot of new books, though, so most people are meek and ask for old stuff, like Malcolm X, and even older stuff, like the Marquis de Sade, both so long ago it’s hard to guess what part of which was fantastical. Maybe this is our liarpants way of sneaking in some fantasy. Anything in the past is so blurry it might as well be a love tale. Maybe even a rape tale.

The most fantastical are the stories from the late 20th century, though. The writers are in for crimes like “drugs,” which is silly because that means the opposite of what it does now. It took me reading half a book to get that. They were in for taking drugs, not for not taking them. Sounds like paradise. Who would ever take their drugs if they didn’t have to? People were crazy back then. And apparently they liked it.

Also, I figured out an incredibly weird fact from the past: having a television in prison was somehow a privilege.

A privilege? A television! They were happy to see a television? Holy shit! They must have had different TV back then.

Or maybe it somehow seemed different because they only had one TV on at a time. I think I gather that’s what they did. In this one book, I forget the title, somebody was telling about how they were watching some program called Big Brother when so-and-so jumped so-and-so and “raped” him. (Ha ha, when I thought I figured out what rape meant I was jealous as hell! I haven’t had rape in how long have I been here? From anybody! ) They were watching one program, in other words. Damn, if I were going to tell you the tale of this Monday when we were in the cafeteria and Doople negatived (Holy Cow!!!) Mike, I would have to leave out the part about which programs we were watching, because it would take me three pages to list them, even if I knew all of their names.

I even forget the names of some of my veryvery favorites.

Isn’t that sad?

So many seconds of pleasure I’ve had from them and I can’t even do them the favor of remembering their names.

The TVs are all on, all the time, and there’s so much that I don’t like, it makes my head feel like it’s full of burning gravy (don’t tell them I said that), and so it’s veryveryvery wonderful when someone does something I like on one of them. I feel so grateful, I want to remember the TV-doer’s name, but their name is never on the show, so I try to remember the show’s name, but I never can, my eyes always just go over to another show, I hate it, but it’s so nice, I have to remember how nice it is or I’m going to be here even longer… Sometimes I want to try to hide my drugs instead of swallowing them, because I think sometimes my drugs are to blame for all my memory holes, but if I got caught it would be another ten years and as it is, job help me, when I get home my televisions are all going to be out of date, possibly rusty, and my girlfriends… shit, they’ve already probably forgotten my name, every one of them. Especially considering my rusty televisions.

Oh well, there are agreeable girls everywhere you look. I should go to the gym though when I get my Me Hour tomorrow. If I remember.

But I can’t help thinking about my girlfriends, as though they’re actually people who are low enough to have to care about me. None of them should have to give a shit about a criminal like me. There’s no drug that advanced. They’re probably all out raping someone who isn’t me. Possibly each other. But I hope they’re just sexing. I hope it isn’t rape. Oh, job. Maybe I don’t even know what the word rape really means. I don’t say it to people; I took it for my own mental records from old television shows, the ones that aren’t as important to watch; the ones you can only watch at four AM when the people who reallyreally like job are dutifully asleep, and maybe Big Brother doesn’t want you watching him so much right then after all, at the hour when good people are helping themselves to get ready to better love J—

Oh, job, I have to quit thinking about it right now or I’m never going to convince them I’m ready to love job true again.

I’ll swear that I’ve only ever seen what goes on in the world of four-AM television because I’ve been in this prison.

Here you have a television whenever you want one, or don’t want one. It’s like outside except you have time to really concentrate on watching. And there’s no job for you to get up and enjoy. You just lie on your cot and all the televisions swirl around you. There was an old one a few minutes or hours ago with a clip of singing dogs eating peanut butter with people using the dogs like puppets. It was maybe from the 1920s from the way the people talked. Funny how there’s hardly any television before that time. All you have before that is books. Did people like books better up to a certain point of history where people became more enlightened? I like books better (don’t tell anyone) because I’m stupid, and I like to try to understand one thing at a time. But they’re so hard to read with all the televisions on. But at least when I’m reading a book it’s easier to look like I’m enjoying myself, because I am.

Except for all the noise.

These televisions make so much noise playing all together. It makes sense when you’re watching them and you look at all the images and your brain can sort them out: that music goes with the musical dogs and the talking goes with the people, it’s easy, and the news goes with the news people and the drama goes with the beautiful people.

But when you’re reading you have to take your eyes off the televisions and so the noise no longer makes sense, it’s just noise without their faces reassuring you, and you begin to suspect it might just be a little bit unpleasant. Especially when they keep them so loud. Every time the guard brings me my food he asks me nicely, he’s such a kind-hearted guard, he asks me “do you want me to turn the televisions up? My job, you can barely hear them in here you poor thing” and he’s so nice I tell him oh thank you, but you don’t have to… and he does, and they get even louder. I’m afraid my ears are going to die.

But I can’t think too loud about how I’m afraid, because if I think it too loud I might say it and then they’ll know I’m in here for a legitimate reason.

And I guess if my ears die I can read in peace and not be accused of anything. Hey, that guy can’t help it, he loved TV and drugs so much his ears died. Like little worthless animals. He’s stuck with his books now, the poor stupid bastard. In a year he won’t know enough to breathe.

I… I’m trying to remember why I’m here. In the prison. Um… I was just talking about it. Job. I think somebody clever told us once we would die horribly because Big Brother was watching us. But I feel like I’m going to die from watching Big Brother.

Oh yeah, I was talking… not used to that… how I am here. OK. I was at job one day. I got there on time, because I always get there on time, because I love job, doesn’t everyone? It’s required. Why would we not want to do something that’s required? Such inhuman inaction toward the required means terrible things.

Oh, but I had some kind of failure of the brain and I negatived!

What came over me? Everything is great! It’s a gift to be alive! I’ve been repeating that undeniable truth for so long, how can I be so stupid I can’t remember that simple thing? It’s all good jobdammit. Ugh, I cringe when I think how I squandered the precious freedom of speech that job brought me! When you have job but you’re not there for a couple of hours, you are allowed to say whatever you want! Not only will no one take exception, no one will even hear you! It’s illegal to hear you when you are not job. It’s only in job that you have an audience, that you are heard, that you are judged. What, do you expect them to have time to listen to your stupid around the clock? Get over yourself!

In here you can’t say anything because you haven’t earned it. And I’m starting to wonder if they can hear what I think. They can hear every drop of piss that goes in the toilet, why not…?

Oh, job, why didn’t anybody tell me how bad it would be if I thought a different thing? I would have loved job with all my heart so hard. I do love job with all my heart. So hard I do I do love job. Please let me go back to job, beg it on my crawling knees to just please hold me and love me again, I don’t care how many times it makes me clear out the corpse filter or jog the memory trap! I’ll even type the Daily Love Log! It was sweeter than the sweet honey of rape, was job; please let me go home and love it again and be a productive citizen! I’m so sorry someone overheard my indiscreet conversation, was inflicted with the wound of my negativery

But but I never even really said it! When I said, “I am so sad here with all the pointlessness of what we do that I think it would not matter if I died, and I’m tired of being stupid…” Job, I was only kidding! Job, how could they misunderstand my comradely joke! I was quoting a television program I saw… oh job, when did I see that show? What else was I watching it with? I can’t… I can’t… if only I could remember the name of the television program I jokingly—yes it was a jobdamned joke please listen—stole my confession from, then my life would be perfect.

How could it get better? A perfect television drama: my brilliant but misunderstood joke, my mysterious arrest, my generous but slightly mistaken three-point-seven-minute trial, the five or ten years I’ve been in here, and then… my glorious exoneration back into the wonderful sadness (I didn’t say sadness, shut up, I said glory) of job! Oh, job, it’s all so TV-ready! They could televise it for fifteen seconds of immortality! This is TV gold! And then everyone would understand how I love job and how good it all is…

What? I don’t remember. My book fell down off my lap, the central televisions are somehow getting louder even with no guards here, I wish I could remember job and her warm arms where Team Members and I talked about something that was important and then we came to a great conclusion, it was wonderful…

Oh take me back.

There are too many TVs here. In my apartment I had just the right number

please

About the Author

Ann Sterzinger

Ann Sterzinger is a proofreader. She spends nine hours a day staring at advertisements for beer and diabetes and scribbling lines of dialogue on post-it notes for a science fiction novel, then leaving them strewn around her cubicle in a cryptic act of passive-aggressive god knows what, I’m not a psychiatrist. She has published three novels.

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