by Robert Freeman Wexler


Brown's wife left--when?--already two or three months ago. He had

explored her geometry so thoroughly in the three-room apartment he

still found her superimposed over everything. In the mornings her

face covered the walls and landscapes of thick hair draped the

furniture; evenings, her voice taunted him. She erupted from his

ears in pink and green surges. He could do nothing. She arose,

unwanted. Yet, what feeling did that squeeze from him?



Nights were the worst. When he got into bed, hours passed. After

thrashing sleeplessly he chanted, silently, over and over: I am a man

with an indifferent heart. But even his indifference was a failure,

for one would think that a man with an indifferent heart would be

able to sleep. One night, he crawled out onto the fire escape and

howled with laughter at the absurdity.


Food became inessential. Water served as breakfast. A mid afternoon

snack of two glasses had to carry him to the next morning. He

couldn't work. A five hundred page art history manuscript he'd been

hired to copy edit remained on the table with the rest of his mail,



Sometimes the phone rang, but he never answered. It wouldn't be for

him. All calls had been hers.


On a rainy day he sat on the fire escape; on a sunny day he sat

inside. Then for a time, he sat outside on a sunny day and inside on

a rainy day. His apartment had two fire escapes. One overlooking an

airshaft, the other above the street. Sitting on either one suited.

He ignored the layers of smells rising from the Italian restaurants:

frying calamari, baking lasagna, and later, after closing, wine from

broken bottles, rotting food.



Some say humanity is easily crushed by circumstances. Others laud a

person's ability to survive. In 1852, a group of Cheyenne attacked

and wiped out the small, West Texas settlement of Harrisonburg. A

42-year-old seamstress named Emma Golden, who had recently moved from

St. Louis and had never before lived outside of a city, escaped and

walked over five hundred miles to Amarillo, with no food and only a

small water bottle.


When she reached the town, limping, holding herself up with a branch

found in a dry stream bed, she claimed to have been helped by a

disembodied woman's head. This head, she explained, appeared on her

second day, motionless, staring to the west. It showed her the ten

ways to survive, she said, and she never spoke about it again.




When the temperature dropped toward freezing, Brown wore thermals to

sit on the fire escape. He'd learned long ago the layering

techniques needed to maintain comfort in a variety of elements. One

evening, as he sat on the street side while sleet fell, he pictured

his wife and her new lover walking below, hand in hand. They went

into Di Francesca's. How easy it would be to climb down the fire

escape, enter the restaurant, and confront them. Consider a crime of

passion--what jury would convict him of killing his wife's lover?

But Brown felt no passion. What would be a crime of indifference?

There had been a time, after they first moved into their Little Italy

tenement, when they'd made love in every room, on the living room

floor, the kitchen table, in the narrow entryway. He'd grown to

expect this life to continue. They'd been close, he thought. She

called him her copain.


Brown's wife took an older man for a lover. This man had not been

the first to profess his love for her while she and Brown had been

together. Her need to be liked was a desperate thing, and to fulfill

it she'd perfected an ability to comfort people, to make them feel

worthy of admiration. They assumed this attention existed for them

alone, and worshipped her for it. This had never bothered Brown, for

she loved him, not these others. Though after she left, he realized

he'd merely been a long-term project. When she said she was leaving,

his tears surprised her. She'd told him he didn't care. When she

left, his tears stopped, proving her right.


He took out his dictionary and turned to indifference. His favorite

definition: Absence of compulsion toward one thing or another. That

described his life perfectly. Thirty-five years--why had it taken so

long to figure out? Aloof, detached, not showing feeling or

interest, apathetic. He possessed all those things.

He looked at the next entry. Indifferentism: the belief that all

religions are valid. Yes! That was he. He'd always said either

everyone is right or everyone is wrong. Indifferentism had no color.

He was an Indifferentist.


# # #



The universe is alive, each particle unique yet connected. The Mona

Lisa and nuclear waste, baseball and rain, dogs and fear. Where did

Brown fit? After a time, he came to believe that his life resembled

a progression of notes on a piano. He had only to find his melody.


1. Thirty-five years

2. Uncomplicated

3. Kisses


# # #



On a Thursday, a man's head materialized in the middle of Brown's

living room. Brown knew it was Thursday because his watch showed the

day. He needed to know the day; an event as significant as the

arrival of a head in his living room must be marked, but he hadn't

looked at his watch in so long it took him hours to find it. What

felt like hours, of course; he had no way of telling exactly until

after he found the watch, and by then it was too late. Time had



But what of the head? It appeared in the morning, in that instant

when the sun in its ascent splattered the wall outside with gold.

Brown was sitting on the couch, having finally begun to copy edit the

book (because the people for whom he worked had told him to return it

or finish it). He looked up from the pages, and there was the head,

hovering in his living room. Though not hovering exactly--that

indicated an absence of body, whereas this head acted as though it

connected to an unseen body.


When the head made this unexpected appearance, Brown sucked in his

breath and stared. His red pen fell from slack fingers. The head

faced Brown's couch and the windows. It occupied the center of the

living room. Brown didn't move, and neither did the head. When it

occurred to him to look for his watch, he got up, and when he

determined the watch wasn't in the room, he walked past the head to

reach his bedroom. He flattened his body against the wall, keeping

far from the head, but the head made no acknowledgement of Brown's

passing. Brown could hear the breath flowing through the head's

nostrils, an even rhythm that he found soothing.


With his watch secured to his wrist, Brown returned to the couch and

sat admiring the head, its thick nose, cleft chin, hair and sideburns

shot with gray, long hair pulled back in a ponytail. This was no

ordinary head. It stared forward, as though concentrating on

something in another place, somewhere other than Brown's apartment.

Perhaps that was where its body existed, in some faraway land

unreachable by current means of travel. Brown liked to travel, by

car, plane--his last trip had been a week in London with his wife.

Less than a year had passed since then. Now, there was nowhere he

wished to go.


The head shimmered sometimes. Eighty percent here, he thought,

thinking back to the graphics work he used to do. Like an eighty

percent screen applied to a photograph. A little fuzzy but mostly

there. The head possessed an aura of command and he deferred to it,

waiting, so patient in his waiting that he forgot to drink his

afternoon water until his throat constricted from dryness.

But the time came when observation was insufficient. He wasn't the

type to sit quietly while a head dominated his life. So he stood.

If the head did indeed connect to a hidden, standing body, the person

would be a couple of inches shorter than Brown. He approached the

head and shuffle-stepped tohis right. Was there an eyelid flicker?

He tried a quick step the other way, nothing.


What would happen if he touched it? Reaching out with both arms

extended like a cartoon sleepwalker, he moved toward the head, a

half-step at a time. Somewhere among his steps and half-steps, he

observed he was no longer making forward progress, though the action

of walking proceeded without impediment. He measured his range of

motion against the knob of a cabinet--one step with his right foot

carried him beyond the knob, then the left joined the right, but when

he tried another step he found himself starting again from the same

place. The head remained inches from his outstretched fingers.

No more of this tentative half-stepping then. Brown lunged for the

head. With a thump, he hit the floor. His fingers were even with

the knob. He closed his eyes and rested his forehead on his arms.


After a time, he got himself back to the couch and sat, panting,

surprised how exhausted he felt from the attempt. He looked over at

the head. Why didn't it speak? His failure made him think of his

wife. She wouldn't have been surprised. Would've expected it,

another proof of his indifference. So little control

here...alone...inert. But these things can't trouble an

Indifferentist. He stood, turned his back on the head, and went out

onto the fire escape.


The morning sun gave way to clouds, drizzle, but it cleared toward

sundown. As he sat, it occurred to him that his wife's lover might

have sent the head to torment him; this was a troubling concept.

He'd heard the voice of his wife's lover on the phone once, a message

left for her as though Brown didn't exist.


"You are my wildest dreams. Missing you hopelessly but full of

hope," the lover had said.


"Unfortunate" was the word Brown's wife had used (via note) when he

told her (also via note) that he'd heard the lover's message.

Brown's wife acted, in plays, TV commercials, films. The lover had

directed her. Her face would soon appear in advertisements for their

forthcoming film. The anticipation of this event should have filled

Brown with dread, with loathing for his pitiful position.

Instead...indifference. She'd told Brown he was all those things:

detached, unfeeling, aloof. Her words revolved through him while she

packed, emitting silver geysers of dismay and fear, like streams of

discursive neon glue. The weeks of her packing were the black time,

the period of disbelief, before....


But she'd meant to hurt him with her words. That didn't make them

true. He hadn't always been those things, not thirty-five years of

indifference. Now, yes.


1. Who am I?

2. I am here to serve.


# # #



Such a fatherly head. Brown appreciated its silent presence, and

though he hated to break that silence he needed to talk. "I wasn't

always this indifferent. Did you know my wife left me? It's up to

me to change. I know that. But I don't know how. And sometimes,

sometimes I like this indifference. I don't think that makes me

irresponsible, or cold." He continued in that vein, but one-sided

conversations bored him. He wanted to hear the head speak.

How would its voice sound? Dramatic, to match its sideburns? He'd

learned long ago that people's voices rarely matched their

appearance. In a past job, he'd gotten to know many people over the

phone before meeting them, and they never looked the way he'd

envisioned them from the sound of their voice. He supposed the same

was true of him. But there was one whose appearance matched her

voice, and she had such dark eyes. Jane McDonald. He hadn't thought

of her in years. She should have been his lover. With her honest

voice, she would have prevented onset of this indifference that

eliminated his passion.


He took his breakfast water onto the street-side fire escape. He

felt bad excluding the head from his company, but he didn't need to

share every moment with it. The head would understand. They had

worked out an easy relationship so far, and the head wasn't bad, as

roommates go. He took up little space. Somedaythough, Brown might

want to invite a woman home, and how would he explain the head?

Little likelihood of that. He didn't know any women and didn't know

how to meet one. What had he done before he met his wife? He must

have had friends, but he couldn't remember any names. He thought

about Jane McDonald again, but years had passed, and she lived

halfway across the country. She'd no doubt forgotten him long ago.

He sipped his water. Not that an Indifferentist cared.


He looked through the open fire escape window at the head, then

glanced away, embarrassed, but the head gave no indication that it

had read the lie in Brown's thoughts. "I do have friends," he said.

"I checked my messages this morning. Sam asked how I was doing, and

Frank. So did Kari. But I can't talk to any of them right now."




Mathematics lives in a land of mystery and wonder, a universe oblique

to our own. Its explorers win few accolades from popular culture.

Those who need to refine and enrich the concept of number find their

rewards in the work itself. Consider Bernardo Bolzano. He entered

the University of Prague in 1796; he studied philosophy, mathematics,

and physics.


Bolzano liked to say, "my special pleasure in mathematics rested

particularly on its purely speculative parts...I prized only that

part of mathematics which was at the same time philosophy." Bolzano

is best known for his work on infinity. He argued that the most

promising approach toward an analysis of the infinite is

mathematical. In Paradoxes of the Infinite, he asked: "Who, for

instance, would not agree that the length of the line which is

unlimited in the direction aR is infinite?" His paradox involved the

idea that not all infinite sets can be considered equal with respect

to their multiplicity. "Instead, some are larger (or smaller) than

others, that is, one can encompass the other as a mere part (or,

conversely, one can be a mere part in another)."


Bolzano also speculated on the connections between mathematics and

beauty. He originated formulas tied to hair color and computed the

likelihood of beauty, both male and female, coming from a variety of

economic and educational backgrounds. His theories on beauty, along

with his socialist and pacifist views and criticism of religious

doctrine led to his being fired and barred from further teaching.

Late in life, he began to work in clay, sculpting busts of men and

woman based on his mathematical models, rather than from life.




At times, Brown wished for a female head, a head of such startling

beauty he would sit in awe, and not the typical beauty of film or

fashion, but someone special, with features that mesmerized. What

would he like in a female head? Red hair. He'd never dated a woman

with red hair.


One morning, as he sat contemplating the head, he realized it must be

hungry, and he felt ashamed for having neglected its needs. He found

his watch. Friday. What did Friday mean? Instead of returning to

the head, he opened the window and stepped onto the fire escape.

Such a lovely view of the airshaft today, and the opposite wall.

Friday. He would prepare a Sabbath meal for the head. He'd never

done that on his own, though he'd grown up with Sabbath meals

prepared by his grandmothers, sometimes by his mother. What should

he cook? Chicken, always chicken, then perhaps roasted potatoes,

salad, green beans, and of course, challa. He'd light candles too.

He still remembered the prayer. The things memorized in childhood

forever remained.


He would have to buy groceries though; it had been so long since he'd

gone out. Now that he'd made this decision he dreaded what he would

find out there. So many people, up and down the streets they walked

on missions that defied his understanding. They pushed aside anyone

blocking the sidewalk. Something occurred to him--feeling, he felt

dread--his first post-indifference feeling!


The recognition of his dread gave him the necessary strength. He

could go outside.


# # #



The familiarity of Met Foods calmed him: the wilted produce, narrow

aisles crowded with boxes, the cashiers chatting in Spanish.

Everything he required could be found here. Forgetting his diet,

forgetting he'd come for Sabbath meal ingredients only, he darted up

and down the aisles, filling his shopping cart. He read labels,

squeezed tomatoes. He stood in front of the canned tuna, trying to

decide which variety to add to his cart, but no no no, this wasn't

what he'd come for. Up and down the aisles again, returning

everything but his Sabbath meal items.


# # #



Throughout Brown's life, cooking had given him pleasure. When he

cooked, he became transformed. He lost his inhibitions. He risked

the life of his meal in search of the greater good flavor. He

crossed the boundaries of ethnic seasonings without fear. Dust now

gathered on the tops of his spice jars.


These were his most-used spices (aside from salt and pepper).

1. Oregano

2. Cumin seeds

3. Rosemary

4. Jalapeño flakes


A month or so before his wife left him--before his life changed,

before he knew it would change, for he'd had no warning of change

approaching--he'd gone away for a week. When he returned, he noticed

that a jar of whole coriander had appeared on the spice shelf. His

wife had never used it before; her cooking consisted of tomato sauces

seasoned with an Italian spice mix. He wondered why she'd bought the

coriander. When she left, it was the only spice she took.


# # #



Back home with his groceries, Brown glanced out the window. Snow had

begun to fall. He opened the jars of his favorite spices and sniffed

each in turn. Once, each separate scent would have elicited an

emotional response: oregano-wistfulness; cumin-contentment;

rosemary-sexual passion; jalepeño flakes-inquisitiveness. All these

months, the spices had been dead to him. Today, he thought,

something might be returning.


He squeezed lemon onto the chicken and rubbed an herb blend into its

skin; he felt happy, and this new happiness engendered more, until he

laughed at his indifference.


He felt gratitude toward the head, which had brought this happiness

into his life, and focused his energy on preparing the meal. Soon,

the aroma of roasting chicken filled the apartment. He boiled and

mashed the potatoes. He blanched the green beans, then sautéed them

in olive oil. He set candlesticks on the coffee table. When

everything attained its optimum of readiness, he fixed plates for

himself and the head and carried them into the living room. He

recited the prayer and lit the candles. Was this prayer supposed to

be done by a woman? There must be allowances for solitary meals

involving one man and one mute head.


Contrary to Brown's usual cooking style, he had refrained from

tasting during his preparation; after going so long without solid

food, he'd waited for this moment, with everything finished and

arranged on the plate, as though he'd become two different people.

One who prepared the meal and one who consumed it. He lifted a

chicken wing to his lips and bit into the crunchy skin; texture and

taste rose through him, petals flowered outward into realms untouched

by clash or despair. This was how to prevent the end, to beat back

the forces of indifference!


One of the candles sputtered; wax dripped down its side. He glanced

at the head. Its food would remain untouched, a prophet's plate

waiting, forever ready.




An air of mystery surrounds the life and artistic career of Hart

Meisner. Many things are known: the deprived early childhood

replaced as a teenager by an ascension into high society when his

widowed mother married the industrialist Bernard Levy; his aborted

attempt at a career in professional baseball; his apprenticeship with

Robert Henri. But so much remains unchronicled. No photographs

exist. Fortunately, there is the art itself, and his few comments

regarding it.


Meisner painted cityscapes. Angles fascinated him: clean edges,

abrupt breaks. Formlessness terrified him. He determined that

because representation of organic matter dominated the art world, he

would refrain from painting it. He felt landscapes and portraits to

be arrogant, a form of appropriating the natural world. In a lecture

he once said, "Vanity causes us to lay claim to earth and trees when

architecture should be trumpeted as our greatest achievement." On

March 2, 1924, while painting a collapsed warehouse in Trenton, New

Jersey, he cut himself on a jagged scrap of iron. Tetanus resulted.

Death followed. No clean edge there.




Brown carried the dishes into the kitchen. On his way back into the

living room, a sharp object jabbed his heel. He sat down and raised

his foot to look--a glass sliver. Months ago, he'd shattered his

wife's picture, slammed it down on the desk where it stood. Glass

flew everywhere; most he'd found and disposed of. He removed the

splinter and stared at it, as though it held the key. Then the head

spoke, its voice a raspy thing, vocal cords scored by time and

trauma, a voice that demanded an audience.


"The flame fans the fates, darkness infests your sight."


Outside, the snowfall had stopped, leaving a dusting on the window

sill and fire escape railing. The couch, the uneven shapes in the

old plaster walls, flowed in and out of focus as they reshaped

themselves in his wife's image. All this time he'd sat, indifferent

to her absence, yet obsessed with traces of her presence.

They'd met three years ago this day, he realized. They'd danced amid

the shapes of others, oblivious to all but themselves, and from

there, life became a fairytale existence in which she, in her

flowered dress, played the part of star. He wondered whether he

would ever know what had been real.


1. Sex

2. Oak

3. Rent

4. Departure


The head spoke again. "Rain consumed the burning holes and soothed

the edges. The clash of armies could never haunt us as it did that

night of tattered refugees. Your heart opened, gushing expressions

of black and silver. Your undulating nature allowed respite. Smooth

clouds swelled along the horizon, obscuring hill and plain alike."

The head knew him better than his wife ever did; Brown opened his

mouth to tell the head that, but changed his mind. The head hadn't

ever responded to his earlier attempts at conversation. The source

of this breakthrough lay elsewhere, in his cooking perhaps. He lay

on the couch with his back against an arm, where he could look at

both the snow outside and the head.


"Two brothers farmed their father's land. One loved the land and

honored it; one preferred the sea but feared change. And which

worked the harder?


"Not the one who loved the land, but the other, for his fear of

change drove him to desperation and made him seek his father's

approval over his brother's."


Brown looked down at the candle, thinking through the head's words.

"Rain falls regardless of whether the garden needs it," the head

said, then its gaze returned to that faraway point.


Brown blew out the candle and walked into the bedroom. So much had

happened this day that he didn't think he'd be able to sleep, but it

seemed the head's phrases had contained a powerful metatonic, for

sleep claimed him as soon as he lay down.


He woke later, calling out in the night, and lay in bed with his

heart thumping. A nightmare, was all, but one so startling he forgot

it immediately. He got up and walked past the head to the couch,

where he lay with his eyes open. The only thing he could recall of

the dream was the sight of his wife's face filling the horizon, as

though formed by sky and cloud. He needed to escape her. Brown

remained on the couch, closing his eyes, and eventually he slept.


# # #



Brown sat on the couch, looking out the window. He'd finished the

art history manuscript and was preparing to take it uptown, to the

office of the publisher. Heavy snowfall mounded on the window sill

and fire escape platform. He leaned closer to the window to see the

sidewalk, now buried beneath the white sheet.


What would his wife be doing now, in this snowstorm? He hadn't

thought about herso concretely in a while. Now he felt a sudden urge

to call her, but what would he say? As a teenager, he and some

friends occasionally spent their afternoons making crank calls,

dialing the numbers of popular girls in the school and pretending to

be someone else. He picked up the phone and punched in her number.


"Hello?" she said. Brown couldn't believe he'd actually reached her.

The whole time they were together, he'd never reached her when he

called, only her voicemail. What would she be thinking now?

Wondering who was calling, wondering.... "Hello," she said, louder.

Brown clicked off the connection. He glanced back at the head,

wondering what it thought of his prank.


Half an hour later, he hit redial. Again, she answered. He held the

receiver up to the head and waited, but the head did nothing.

"I know it's you," she said. "I've got that thing that gives the

number of the person calling. If you're not going to say anything,

don't call me." She clicked off.


She knew. Brown started crying. He hadn't cried when she left, but

now huge, wracking sobs tore through him. He pushed his face into

the couch's pillows and cried. Unable to stop sobbing, he breathed

through his sobs. Nothing had been fair...what did she want? He

couldn't exist to fuel her needs. He had needs. But what could an

Indifferentist need? No, he wasn't that. He had lust, and fear,

and...what? What did he have besides lust and fear? When he looked

up again, the head spoke.


"Where have we been, in this field of stone? Once there were more of

us...." The head scrunched its eyes closed as though attempting to

drive out images it feared. "Once...." Its voice faltered. Brown

waited. "You," the head said, and its eyes popped open, staring in

Brown's. "You must never!"


Brown waited, but the head said nothing more. Its eyes gazed into

its private distance.


# # #


Brown left his building. He'd called the publisher to tell them he'd

bring the manuscript in tomorrow, after the snow had been cleared.

It had taken intense concentration to leave the necessary voicemail

message, but having done so pleased him. Now he was free for the day.

He walked downtown through the snow. He'd never seen so much snow in

the city. No taxis roamed the streets, no pedestrians, no open

stores. He traversed the streets alone. The mounds of unplowed snow

made walking difficult, but the cleanness of it all, the fluttering

whiteness, thrilled him. He walked through the undulating landscape

of snow-covered cars. His footsteps crunched the loose, dry snow,

and he concentrated on the sound, step-crunch, step-crunch, loving

the texture. As he turned a corner he saw four Chinese--three women

and a man--grouped around something in the snow. Together, they

reached down to grasp it. Brown walked on, step-crunch, away from



He stopped walking. Around him, the snow filled the streets with

silence. With so many ways to say goodbye, Brown had chosen

indifference and a frozen life. Contrary to what his wife had said,

he'd cared about her, had wanted their future together, but his life

with her had numbed him in a way he'd only now begun to break out of.

He started crying again, though not the painful sobbing of last

night. All around him, people lived and died. He'd always known

that, but today it had more significance. Significance over



On his way home, the winter world took on varied aspects: the glitter

of sun on snow, people emerging to dig out cars or shovel sidewalks,

the fluttering of pigeons nonplussed by the weather. Soon, the world

would begin again.


He ran up the stairs to his apartment and flung open the door. The

head had left his living room. From the shelf he took his pocket

atlas, having decided to travel to whichever nation the page fell




Originally published in Full Unit Hookup #1.

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