The Sometimes People Show by Sadriguez

There are many fears by which Herm Sterbert is possessed. He fears the large dark tan strongmen who build up their blood filled sacks of bodies at the health club at the corner. He fears other things. Why does he fear the men?

They come out of the gym punching their hands, licking their lips, craning and cracking necks and looking into the sun. They come away in a state. They’re hungry. But not hungry for Herm, but for anything that has it coming without knowing it does.

“I’m expecting a parcel. Package.” “What apartment?” The doorman didn’t look up from his book. “B12.” “There might be something in the back. But… hey they’re cleaning in there. If it came on the late.” “Okay then,” Herm said, “I’ll wait,” and then, after a beat, “What are you reading?” he said. “Why?” the doorman said. “Oh, I don’t know,” Herm said. “Forget it.” He looked up from his book now. Now he appeared to be smiling.

“Sorry friend. I didn’t mean it like that. You have to understand. The kinds of people who live here.” “Not sure I know what you mean.” “Well, you know. The kinds of people who might ask what you’re reading. Want to make sure it isn’t the wrong kind of thing.” “What would be the wrong thing?” “Wrong thing to read at work?” “Yeah.” “Well, that’s just it. You never know. If I knew, I’d never read the wrong kind of thing at work. I’d only ever read the right kind of thing.” “Oh, I see how it is,” Herm said.

“But it’s alright,” doorman said, “that you don’t know this about the kind of people who live here. Because you’re new here, aren’t you?” “That’s right.” “That’s right, I’ve noticed that you’re new.” And then, after a beat, “And I have a feeling you’re new here,” gesturing with his walkie to the world outside the lobby. “Because you only just agreed to being ‘new.’ You didn’t qualify it. ‘New to the building,’ or ‘to the district.’ And ‘not new to the city,’ that’s what people say. Well anyway, here. Take this.”

Doorman handed him a pamphlet. “You must be a reader. Seeing as how you wanted to know what I’m reading. Well, this isn’t about reading, though. But it’s... I don't know… it’s about... thinking, I guess. So maybe the kind of thing you might like.” “Thank you, that’s kind of you.” “Not far from here.” Herm hadn't yet looked at the pamphlet.

Doorman put out a hand. “My name's John Jacob.” “Herm Sterbert.” “Jacob isn’t my last name. My first two names are John and Jacob. My third name’s Rice.” “Herm.” “John Jacob... Rice.” They shook hands.

A bed lies on the floor in the center of the stage in the round and a woman lies on the bed, in the center, in the nude. The lights go down in the gallery, in succession, from the highest tiers to the lowest, until the celebrants are for a moment hidden. Then the light upon her goes up. But it's a soft light, though it is strong, and in their seats they can see each other and communicate. They do not stare at the woman in the bed, they are merely in attendance.

Though it would contravene church etiquette to do so, Herm thinks that he'd like to stare at her at this moment. Yet he’s too embarrassed to be seen ogling. And John Jacob is not far away, just a few tiers down with his wife. Just in front of the foremost tier is a trench that circles the stage, menacing deep. That is an orchestra pit, of which the musicians now tune to A in a jarring swelling. They begin their performance. They don’t play the sort of thing Herm expected, though, they play a jaunty tune with brass.

Herm struggled to awake, several hours too early to begin his prework regimen, only to escape sleep, as well as his boxers which had become very slightly wet. He slid them down, sperming his leg and foot, and this made him wince, and wincing, and with some violence, he hurled his boxers at a hamper in a corner of the bedroom. The violence was gone when in the toilet, looking at his face in accordionlike mirrors, he ran the tap and suddenly he could smell that the water was slightly contaminated.

“That kind of emission hadn’t happened since he was about twelve,” he said, and looked at the shower. The aggression was back: he left the tap running and took up his phone from the kitchen counter. He sent a message to the property manager. The property manager wrote back something about the city working on the mains lately. Take it up with the city?

Who was The City? “Well, he’d better find out,” he told himself. The City, he learned, was something called the Department of Environmental Protection, comprising machines and workers manning them, manipulating a system of sewers funneling the excretions of millions into mysterious odorous churches at whose door he couldn't knock.

There were no communications officers for this protecting department. But there were councilpeople, for whom there were representatives tasked to convey to prying parties a councilperson’s confidence that the Department of Environmental Protection had this past year acquitted itself in its offices consummately, and if it had not, then it would be seen to that, in two years, it would be able to be said of that Department that it had, that past year, acquitted itself consummately or my name isn’t Herm Sterbert.

Back on the phone he punched in the address from the back of the pamphlet and he was very soon there. Out in front of the church he saw John Jacob Rice and John Jacob’s wife who was introduced to Herm as Betty. And when the woman in the center of the bed, in the nude, rose to her feet, there was a giddiness in the room, along with little taps of many hundreds of pairs of feet.

Herm heard, did not see, a man scuttle out onto the stage in the round. He was big and fat, also shirtless, and scurried like a cat to the bed and set himself down upon it playfully in a highly domestic manner. The woman in the nude stood next to the bed watching, then slithered back inside with the big and fat man, who embraced her from behind, sweetly so that she laughed, and kissed the nape of her neck and Herm understood now, of course, that this was her husband.

Can you hear the voice? Yes. Do you sense a spectral presence in the theater? No. But you can hear the voice and, well, isn’t that something? This is their first time in the round. They don’t need to be walked through it, though. It’s a very, kind of, biological thing, actually. You are spoken to, with meaning, and respond to the same. No one is encouraged nor even invited to believe what is said. Only to see if anything is transmitted. To listen, respond.—If inclined to do so.—And one cannot always respond.

You are not a channel. Not a conduit, nor puppet. Conversely, you are not chosen, not prophet, nor anything other than yourself as you previously knew yourself. You are engaged in a conversation. What is that voice saying?—And I ask, advisedly, because it isn’t always lexical. And it is very often private. And so now we celebrate both disclosure and discretion.

They’ve shown me bright green waters. I’ve been submerged and sunk to the ocean floor. They’ve put on “Freddie Freeloader” from Kind of Blue. I'm not even particularly a fan of jazz but there are these great, gray elegant sea turtles, stately and with stoic expressions. And they're flying above me, and they appear to glide along without effort.

They fear the manta ray but it is quiet and still on the ocean floor, and so it is not a consuming fear. They are entirely free and great and brilliant bright. And as they traverse the colorful ocean life at its depths, they reflect, on their shells and wrinkled skin, a most beautiful spectrum of hues. Their expressions are even more thoughtful now in this colorful light. They appear to me... beatific.

But as they go to breach, I think of celestial bodies fleeing, and there is something sad about all of this. I don’t know why it’s sad. The music has stopped and I believe I hear the voice. Or many new voices intoning in unison: a man’s tenor, a woman’s soprano, a baritone, mezzo-soprano, a gravelly contralto; at bottom, at a murmur, a grave basso profundo. Low, very low.

We can only really and truly hear each other in the silence of physical play. When there are no anxious thoughts of the next thing or of the end of play or of the end of anything which must end.

I will show you things.

In physical play you will find sanctuary even from grief. And from any grief one can imagine, any pain of being that can be had.

In physical play the channel connecting us is clear. And then you can hear me. I can show you things. They are stoics, as humorless as birds, on land they move too slowly, they appear to agonize to move.

But in the sea, in physical play, they fly, are unrestrained, are weightless. And they can hear me, and I, them. And I can show them.

Herm found himself knocking at a walnut door.

“It’s open. Come in Herman,” he heard. And so he did. The study reminded him of the office of his least favorite professor in college. Shelves heaved with talcy old books. June stood behind an aluminum desk in green lead paint in a painful looking chair from forty years ago. And for one solitary guest there was a fine low recumbency upholstered in gray linen. In it sat John Jacob, smiling in anticipation of anything Herm might say to June.

“We’re excited to see you,” he said. Herm looked about him for a place to sit. Having once again sat, June now rose again and gestured to his own seat. “Please,” he said, and, as Herm resumed his seat for him, June wandered over to sit in the deep sill of a low bay window.

“Before you speak,” June said, “I want to say to you what I must say to everyone to whom I speak directly for the first time. For that: if he or she or they were to ask the question to which the thing I must say is one answer, the question may be answered as it ought to be. Conversely, answered, if asked, then the answer must lack credibility. Must only, necessarily, be regarded with the incredulity of one wary. Listen Herman. We are not cultists. We accept no money. We exist, can exist, because I own the theater. I print the pamphlets on my own press which I have downstairs. I pay the orchestra. And I do all of this, I can assure you, for very selfish reasons.

“Ten years ago, out on the Sound on my son’s boat, an accident befell me. I was taken to a hospital, treated and addressed tenderly by a doctor. This gentleman told me that I would be fine. That I would live to be one-hundred years old. But that I would never again make love to my wife.”

“I’m sorry.”

June and John Jacob laughed.

“Well then don’t be,” June said. “This doctor was proved wrong. Another doctor… another sort of doctor… was able to replace what god created, and what the accident uncreated, with my very own… what you might call a pleasure robot. I won’t ‘gore’ you with the details but this was, essentially, a plastic cylinder with a hydraulic mechanism, pump and fluid reservoir, fitted inside my… well… the procedure was five years hence and I was once again able to make love to my wife. But now I did so from the point of view of one who had been for many years assured that his sexual life was all but over. This sexual resurrection somehow rendered me more attuned to a certain voice associated with the act of physical play which I had heard faintly for many years, and was now able to hear pristinely. That said, know, Herm, that we are not a cult. We are not either, for that matter, perverts. Our celebrants do not… masturbate in the aisles. I hope you will believe me when I tell you that I did not make this investment to secure for myself the world's most elaborate pornograph. It was only physical play that, I found, from a precocious age, brought me into direct communication with the Electric Being; then it was becoming tuned into the electric voice, and the wish that I could help others to hear it as well.” “I have no doubts about that. I’ve come to you today for a peculiar reason. I’ve had an experience that I’d like to relate to you. I’m new to this city. I had dinner with a woman. Our conversation went well. There was... a mutual affection. But I couldn't help but touch upon the subject of the church. And when I did she was at first intrigued by the prospect of such a place. But then became convinced that it was impossible that I was not, as you say, a pervert… ed… gentleman.” The others laughed. “That was where the conversation ended. The peculiar problem is this. How can I truly cherish these wonderful experiences I’ve had in the church without also sharing them with the world outside the church. And how, then, could those experiences be…. you know, legitimate? How could they endure in pungency if I was to speak of them never with outsiders. And how would I know that I would not one day grow to be ashamed. Of those experiences… of... of I suppose, the role that I play here?” Herm’s audience erupted a third time with genial laughter. Herm almost laughed himself, but now he wondered how his marriage might have played out had he met Emille in an ordinary way, if they hadn’t had the church over which to bond. While there were things over which they bonded that were unrelated to the church, Herm wondered, as they sat on the bed on the stage in the round in the nude, if those other things were not in some more obscure way connected to the church.

“Can you,” he said to Emille, “imagine what you might see? Or hear?”

“I don’t know what I may or may not be shown, or may or may not hear. Because I don’t know by whom a thing would be shown to me, from whom I would hear what I would hear. Everyone seems to come away with something different. I don’t even know if the thing would be of any interest. What others say they’ve seen or heard. Think of hearing jazz if you didn’t like jazz!”

“I found that one quite interesting.” “You’re nervous?” “Are you not nervous?” “I mean... you are shy.” “No, I don’t think I am.”

Herm closed his eyes so that the celebrants became invisible, and then even their tapping feet were somehow silenced. But then he opened his eyes and saw Emille, only she was in their bed at home, and then he saw the outside of his door, inches from his nose.

He tried the handle but it would not submit. He thought he heard grunting from within his apartment. He tried again. Soon he was sure he heard the grunting of a man. He tried the handle again with violence. Now he was sure he heard a grunting second man. He looked away from the door and saw that an enormous hole had been torn in his wall, and further down the hall he saw a gang of large dark tan strongmen with bats. So he braced himself for an attack. But they stopped short of him and turned to the hole. They banged with their bats at the edges of the great wound in the drywall, seeming to want to tear it away completely. Again Herm tried the door handle and again he failed. He opened his eyes.