‘Heidi’s Thesis” by Joe Cloyd
I should’ve beaten off before I went to that bar. That’s really what I should’ve done… now that I think of it. Then, perhaps, I would’ve been more in control. Everyone would’ve been better off. But I didn’t, so here I am. It was a pretty chic bar just off campus, catering to students, hipsters, and fashionable intellectual types. I was there to meet Ernie and Bill. It was a tradition for the three of us to talk philosophy in bars. I wasn’t a philosophy major, but Ernie was. He was even somewhat of an authority. Me—I studied literature, but had an intellectual hard-on for Nietzsche, who Ernie says, isn’t really a philosopher. Whatever… I liked N’s spin on eternal recurrence… Nietzsche basically said that you will live and die, and live again and die again the same life and the same death over and over again, thus leading you to conclude that the point of life is to make it something that you’re willing to relive for all of eternity. I really think there might be something to that. But I’m getting off track here. I just wanted to say that I liked philosophy, and I would’ve changed my major if I didn’t have someone waiting for me. She was another that I should’ve beaten off.
We were engaged… me and Annette and had been together for four years. We met here in Portland, and one year later she decided to move to Philadelphia to pursue her PhD in literature. Once I got my BA done and over with, I planned to move down to Philly and do the same. Now, I just want to say that I didn’t intend on picking anyone up that night. I was only going to have a few drinks, then go home and work on my Dante paper.
When I got there, Ernie and Bill were already drinking their beers. I sat down and a waitress asked what I’d have.
“A gin and tonic,” I replied, and she was off to the bar. Taking off my jacket, I nodded to my two friends and then looked around the bar. It was busy. It’s always like that during happy hour. The place was darkly lit so that you could see the cigarette smoke hang in the air… we didn’t usually drink here… I don’t know why Ernie wanted to drink here… the place was really a meat market… I couldn’t smell the pheromones, but I knew they were there… bouncing off the walls and getting stuck in the bullshit. You could tell by the way the women laughed as they twirled their hair that they were looking for a lay… with the men, you could just smell it… the bullshit wasn’t as strong as the smell of cigarette smoke… but it was pretty close.
“That’s what one of my ex-girlfriends used to drink,” snickered Ernie.
“Well, the girl has good taste. Must be why she left your sorry ass,” I retorted.
“You know it’s funny,” announced Ernie, “I’m still friends with all my ex-girlfriends. All of them. None of them hate me.”
“There’s no fuckin’ way,” said Bill. Bill was a double major in history and philosophy. A great guy that Bill. When sober he was really low key, but even when slightly inebriated he could really make you laugh your ass off. Looking at me, he continued, “There’s no fuckin’ way you’re friends with ANY, much less ALL, of your exes.”
“Can’t say that I am,” I added.
“Me neither. I’ve fucked plenty of women. Some of them hate me. Most of them don’t give two shits about me. But none of them are friends with me,” declared Bill. But Ernie wasn’t one to let such an accusation go unanswered.
“That’s because you’re a bad screw. Me, on the other hand: I’m a good lover. I taught them some tricks, and they appreciate it. Just the other night, one of my exes needed help on a paper. So I went over to her apartment to help her on it. We order a pizza, and when I come out of the bathroom she’s completely naked.”
“She ain’t your friend. She’s your fuck-buddy. There’s a difference. Me and Dave. We’re you’re friends. But if you were fucking us, we’d be your fuck-buddies. But you ain’t. So we aren’t.” Bill had a way of laying down the facts once you got a few drinks in him. I sure the heck was laughing my ass off. Even Ernie’s face was turning red from laughter. Recognizing the fact that he was on a roll, and had us right where he wanted us, Bill added, “And just because we’re your friends, don’t mean we like you either…” and we laughed and we laughed. I didn’t even have my first drink yet.
Then came the lull in the conversation, and the two of them took a sip of their drinks almost at the same time.
“What was the paper on?” I asked.
“Oh man, I hate Descartes.”
“Hey, without Descartes,” returned Ernie defensively, “there wouldn’t be any modern philosophy. And he did some important stuff for geometry too.”
“Descartes didn’t do philosophy. He did religion.”
“No he was religious, but he was also a philosopher. There’s a difference.”
“Says who?” I returned. Just then the waitress came with my gin and tonic. I thanked her, took a drink, and looking in Ernie’s direction, I said this, “You know what, I don’t care what you say, I don’t think that there’s a goddamned difference between religion and philosophy.”
“Aw man, not this bullshit again. That’s the problem with you English majors. You always go all postmodern-nothing-is-true bullshit. Philosophy and religion are totally different.”
And Bill… the smooth and somewhat smug Bill… he cut in like a murderer slicing a child’s throat, “Well gee, now that you put it that way I guess you’re right. I mean, just take a look at the both of them. TOTALLY different. Religion is concerned with the metaphysical world, and how we behave in the real world while philosophy… uh… well… it’s concerned with… um… THE METAPHYSICAL WORLD AND HOW WE BEHAVE IN THE REAL WORLD!”
“I’m telling you that they’re totally different.”
“How?” demanded Bill.
“Philosophy is concerned with truth.”
“But isn’t religion concerned with truth too?” I added.
“Isn’t the same,” Ernie returned. “It just isn’t the same. Philosophy is also concerned with logic, and using logic to get at the truth.”
“Ok, fine. Sure. Whatever you say,” Bill put in, “Just shut the fuck up. I’m tired of hearing this horseshit.” So we stopped talking about that. Instead, we talked about our classes, our professors… that kind of nowhere talk. Bill was the first to leave… he had to do some reading… leaving just me and Ernie. We drank and kicked the religion/philosophy argument around some more. I wasn’t as good as Bill or Ernie with the whole arguing thing. To tell the truth, I didn’t really care too much whether Ernie was right or wrong… it was just fun conversation…. When I was half way through with my fourth drink, along came one of Ernie’s inebriated exes. She came up and whispered something in his ear. I couldn’t hear what she said, but her tone looked to be a salacious one. The lucky bastard… Ernie said that he had to go.
The bar was pretty smoky, so when he left I thought I’d might as well take a seat outside to finish my drink in the crisp evening air, and then leave. About three minutes after I sat down, along came this redhead and she starts talking to me. She asked my sign.
“Taurus, how about you?” I answered.
It was my general experience that if Geminis are anything, they’re good conversation. And did I mention she was gorgeous? She was… those big blue lingering eyes… those thick black eyelashes… those high cheekbones… that soft sensuous mouth… and that fair skin… the way her cherry-black blouse and black skirt accentuated her slim, soft figure… these things… they made my blood break dance and bebop. I was instantly enthralled.
“So you’re a Taurus,” she replied… twirling her hair and then giggling, “There’s been a lot of those coming into my life lately.”
“Strong-willed, passionate… such are the traits of the mighty bull,” I replied. Even outside we could smell the scintillating scent of conversational manure… but it’s like the smell of shit in your own bathroom… as long as it’s yours, it’s not so bad… in fact it can smell pretty damn sweet at times.
“So what are you studying?” I asked.
“I’m getting my masters in neuroscience. And you?”
“BA in English. But I’m thinking about trying to squeeze in a minor in philosophy.”
“Oh really? Philosophy was my second major.”
“Oh yah… who do you like?”
“It’s hard to say, but I definitely like the Germans… you know Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger…”
“Those guys are nuts.”
“How about you?”
“I’m a big fan of Nietzsche. Read some Kant. Never read Heidegger.” I noticed that she finished her drink. “I tend to read a lot of the existentialists… you know, like Nietzsche, Camus, Dostoevsky, Sartre… those guys…. Say, can I buy you another drink?” She said that that would be great, so I got a waitress’s attention and ordered a drink for each of us. Part of me was really enjoying the conversation, but another part of me was feeling guilty because of Annette. But Annette wasn’t there, and… uh… this girl was. Besides, I got to thinking about Jean-Paul Sartre. He fucked all kinds of women who weren’t his wife. His stuff isn’t that profound, but I liked his style. Perhaps I, too, could be like Jean-Paul Sartre and Annette could’ve been Simone de Beavoir.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t get your name,” I said.
“Enchanté! I’m Dave.”
“So you’re getting a MS in neuroscience? That must be interesting work. How do you like it?”
“Oh it’s great.”
“So what are you working on?”
“Well, it’s sorta a secret.”
“You can tell me.”
She looked around to make sure that no one else was listening, then she whispered, “I’m reanimating recently deceased people.”
“I’m working on the reanimation of dead flesh,” she repeated.
I thought that she was nuts when she said this. Either that, or she was joking. I chose to take it as a joke.
“You mean… like you mean like zombies… right?”
“Zombies are great. I’m a big Romero fan. How about you?” And the conversation went on from there for another two hours. We talked more about ourselves, our other interests, and whatnot. We both knew what was going to happen. I had a hard time keeping eye contact because she was wearing a low-cut blouse. Her breasts were perfect creamy globes of milky-white flesh. I was trying to be a gentleman, but I think she noticed. Women tend to notice that sort of thing.
“Do you wanna see them?” she asked.
How could I refuse? I paid for the drinks, and we left. She led the way. I was a bit confused when we ended up at the Science Building. We walked past the security guard, she opened the door with an identification card, we walked in, and took the elevator to the third floor where she opened another door with the card. She turned on the lights. The room was mostly white and grey… an almost blinding, sterile, and surreal white. There were things you’d regularly find in a lab… stuff like test tubes… various machines… microscopes. I don’t know why, but I picked up a microscope. It must’ve been good fifteen pounds! But that was just boring lab stuff. In the middle of the large room was a glass cell about 12 feet by 12 feet by 12 feet. In that cube were a naked man and woman. The light had startled them. They looked to the ceiling and initially they didn’t even notice that we were in the room. No fuckin’ way, I thought. I looked to that bigass microscope on one of the tables… it wasn’t the ideal weapon, but it would do. For a few moments Heidi stood beside me silently, gauging my reactions, and then she said:
“Well, there they are.” For the most part, the two of them looked to be in good shape… as if they worked out… but then again it also looked like they hadn’t slept in days. It wasn’t until Heidi clapped her hands loudly that they finally began to gaze in our direction.
“There they are.”
“Who are they?”
“They’re my project silly. They’ve been reanimated.”
“You mean they’re zombies?”
“That’s one way of putting it, but yes.” She was very nonchalant about the whole thing, which now that I think about it… was kind of reassuring.
“So… uh… do they bite, like in the movies?”
“What? Not at all… that is… they aren’t aggressive unless they’re provoked. We call the male Adam, and the female is—”
“Your taking this better than I thought you would,” said Heidi. “Why don’t you say hi.”
“They can talk?” At this point, the two dead people lost interest in us and shuffled around the cage a bit. We continued our conversation.
“No. Not really. But you can still say ‘hi,’ can’t you? They won’t understand of course. I always talk to them… it’s like talking to plants. They don’t seem to understand language anymore. But they make noises. And you can tell if they’re happy or sad, angry or aroused. One of the things they can still do is have sex. Can you believe it? That was completely unexpected.”
“You’re shittin’ me. These aren’t zombies, they’re just retards.”
“I shit you not. Despite the fact that they can move around and stuff, they are dead.”
“And they have sex?”
“Sure they do, they eat, they sleep, defecate, and fuck. All that stuff.”
“What do they eat?”
“Anything really. Whatever we give them.”
“Do they eat flesh?”
“The closest thing to flesh we’ve ever tried to feed them was raw ground beef. They ate it up. But they also ate candy bars. We’ve put live animals in there… dogs, cats that sort of thing and they didn’t even bother with them… and they’ve never tried attacking us… for the most part they’re pretty docile…”
“They really fuck?” I asked in disbelief. Never seen that in a Romero flick. But I do remember that there was some zombie-fucking in Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive.
“Sure, they just need some stimulation. You can manually initiate stimulation, or you could provide visual stimulation. Want me to show you?” I really didn’t. Watching dead people walk around is really a mood-killer. But Heidi… she was really into it, and there was no way I was passing her up. She kissed me, firmly pressing her body against mine. We didn’t get Adam and Eve’s full attention until we began taking each other’s clothes off. Once naked, Heidi found a blanket from a closet and put it on one of the tables. I lifted her to the table. The table was parallel with their cage, so that when I put it in her, Adam let out an approving moan and hopped on Eve. After that, I kept my attention on Heidi. It was pretty damn weird, but I was motivated. They were still going at it even after we were finished. Their basic motor skills seemed impeded by a sort of stiff awkwardness, but they could still get down. It was like watching a washing machine during the spin cycle, except that the load was off center. Once your dick was soft, sex really looked like a stupid thing.
Three of four days later, I ran into Ernie at a café, told him about Heidi, and described her to him. Red hair, blue eyes. Heart-shaped face. Studies neuroscience. Crazy about the German philosophers.
“So you’re going out with her now?” was his reply. “What about Annette?”
“Is there any woman around here that isn’t a ‘friend’ of yours?”
Ernie laughed and then repeated, “But what about Annette?”
“Don’t want to talk about that right now.”
“Understandable… so how’s Heidi doing? Is she still trying to reanimate corpses and all that crap?” What the fuck was going on? Was I the only one that found the notion of zombies being real a little disorienting? Oh well, since he was going to play it cool and unimpressed, I thought I should probably play it that way too.
“Actually, she’s got some corpses walking around in a lab.”
“You’re fuckin’ with me,” Ernie returned. “That’s impossible.” That explained his casual tone, I thought feeling a little less crazy.
“What’s your problem? You’re a philosopher… you guys are always talking about stuff that’s impossible.”
“I think you’re thinking of ‘thought experiments,’” Ernie corrected me.
“But let’s just say that something like that is possible in the first place, it would be pretty interesting… you know, philosophically speaking. Just consider the quality of life. That’d be a terrible way to live.”
“But they’re dead. And when you’re dead you’re not living anymore.”
“Yah, but they still exist as a corpse. It’s just like if you were to go into a coma. What does everybody say? They say if I’m ever in a situation like that: pull the plug. No one wants to live like that.”
“But they wouldn’t know what’s going on. It would be like they’re high.”
“How could you possibly know? Who’s to say what ‘living’ actually is? How do you define life? ‘Life’ has got to be different than ‘existence.’ Besides, being high is a state of consciousness. Thus, if they have consciousness it stands to reason that they have some awareness. It may be limited, but it’s still there. So even though they wouldn’t know what’s going on, they would in fact know that something is in fact going on. See what I mean.”
I did, but I didn’t say anything.
“Just out of curiosity, do these hypothetical zombies talk?”
Again, I didn’t say anything.
“Ok, let’s assume that they don’t talk,” Ernie continued, “Let’s even say they aren’t even capable of demonstrating rational thought… how can you tell if they possess consciousness or not? Hell, you and me can speak and demonstrate rational thought and yet it can’t be proven, philosophically speaking of course, that we have consciousness!”
“I suppose that you’d be able to tell by looking at them,” I answered.
“Here,” Ernie stared at me blankly, “do you know what I’m experiencing by the expression on my face. No, come on. Tell me what I’m thinking and feeling.”
“You’re thinking about how it sucks to be a zombie,” I answered reluctantly.
“Nope. I’m thinking about the times that I fucked Heidi.” That was Ernie’s way to take the edge off, but he was right. I mean, it must be pretty messed up walking around like that. It was highly probable that they still were aware of what was going on.
If that conversation sounded a bit contrived, it wasn’t. That’s how philosophers talk, but we didn’t talk much longer because Ernie had to get to class. He never made it though. He was hit by a car on the way. Ironically, it was one of his exes who was at the wheel.
Me and Heidi went to the funereal. It was closed casket. All of Ernie’s friends, family, and ex-girlfriends, were there. Ernie’s close friend and academic advisor, Professor Spinoza, gave the eulogy. It was a great injury to philosophy and the world, he said, to have such a promising student of philosophy like Ernie be struck down at such a young age. Everyone commiserated. Even his exes.
Afterwards, I went with Heidi to her lab. She said that she wanted to show me something, but before she showed me she made me promise that I wouldn’t tell anyone—absolutely no one—about what I was about to see. When we walked in her lab, there they were—Adam and Eve. That wasn’t shocking. But in the corner of the cage, there was another figure.
“Who’s that?” I asked because some of the lights must’ve burnt out, making the room dimmer.
“You don’t recognize him?”
As soon as she said that, I knew. I could barely look at him. Heidi asked what was wrong. I thought the whole thing was fucked up, and I told her so. “I thought that you’d be happy,” she returned.
I said nothing.
“I know it’s weird but—”
“Yes it is.”
“But you didn’t act this way the first time.”
“Last time it wasn’t anyone that I knew.”
“He’s not the Ernie you knew. The Ernie you know is gone.”
“Why? WHY did you bring him back?”
She didn’t answer.
“So what are you going to do? Have some sort of experiment on jealousy or something? Pit Ernie against Adam for Eve?”
Again, she was silent.
“No it’s science. And besides they’re not really people. Not people like you and me.” I walked up to the cage by Ernie. He looked pretty messed up. He had a very vague mopey expression. He looked like a piece of laundry that had been worn and washed a thousand times in bleach and hot water. I greeted him. He made no sound. He just stared back.
I yelled to make sure that I had his attention. Then I said, “You know Ernie, I still don’t see the difference between religion and philosophy. I mean they’re practically the same thing.”
Ernie moaned aggressively in protest. I then looked to Heidi.
“But he’s not alive. He just thinks he is,” rationalized Heidi.
“He’s already dead.”
“I know. Kill him.”
“But my research… my grant…”
“If you won’t, I will.” I tried getting into the cage, but it was locked. “Where’s the key?” Heidi responded with only a blank stare. “I SAID: WHERE’S THE FUCKIN’ KEY!” And I charged her. She panicked and backed up against the table where that bigass microscope was. We both tumbled on the floor, and then I felt something heavy hit my head… and that’s the last thing I remember.
When I awoke, I was in the cage with Adam, Eve, and Ernie. My body was numb and stiff. When I moved, I had no sensation of moving. It felt like I was drugged… like I was an avatar in some video game. Then I saw Heidi on the other side of that cage. I could understand her yet I couldn’t understand her. She was saying how sorry she was. That it all happened so fast. That it was an accident. I didn’t say anything, not because I was angry, but because I couldn’t get the words out.
So this is my life now. My body is as much use to me as a car without the key. Instead of driving it, I’m pushing. I’m in here… somewhere… probably in the subconscious… I don’t know how… writing my story. Recalling every little thing that I’ve done and had done to me… taking a sort of inventory of my life. I’m not sure how long I’ve been here. But each time, my inventory becomes a bit more complete and precise. I often think of Annette. I wonder how she’s doing. She was really a classy girl. I wonder about my parents. I remember having good times in the bars with Ernie and Bill. How’s Bill anyways? I’ll never know, I suppose. But I know how Ernie’s doing. We’re eating, shitting, and both trying to get at Eve first. Note: Eve and Ernie seem like they’re really good ‘friends.’ In fact Eve could give a crap about me or Adam. The other day Adam tried to poke me in the ass. I was lucky… sometimes he’s successful but this time I kicked his ass pretty badly for that and then I mounted him while Heidi took notes. Afterwards he didn’t seem to mind that much… the others are probably going through the same thing I am… they’re probably in there somewhere trying to remember things to keep from going crazy… or maybe it’s just me. Maybe they’re content with what they have. I am sometimes. Other times, I miss my old life. It’s amazing how many things you’ve overlooked. The little things. All the clichés. All the things you take for granted. Sunny days. Being outside. Taking walks at two o’clock in the morning. The blossoming trees in springtime. The dark anonymity of the movie theater. Enjoying a good book. And it’s funny, but in the process you always say ‘I should’ve done this instead of that… and that instead of this,’ which is just really stupid and futile, and you know it’s stupid and futile, and yet you do it anyways… no matter what. It makes me think of a passage out of Dante’s Inferno… let me see if I can remember it… “We see, even as men who are farsighted… those things that are the most remote… but when events are… in the here and now… our minds are useless… were we not informed by others… we should know nothing of our human state….” I think that it goes something like that, but it’s not like it matters. They’re just words. But don’t get me wrong… the right arrangement of words have a way of keeping madness at bay. But I’m not interested in words right now. I’m interested in my life as it was….
Ok. So let’s run through this again. Like I said before, I should’ve beaten off. That’s what I really should’ve done. If I did that… things might’ve been different… Everyone would’ve been better off, and by ‘everyone’ I really mean myself. But I didn’t, so here I am. It was a pretty chic bar, catering to students, hipsters, and fashionable intellectual types. I was there to meet Ernie and Bill….