The problem with Love, Carla likes to pronounce at random intervals, slicing the otherwise long silence of the sessions, is that it is the domain of science, of We can build you into Love. The problem with Love, Carla says, is that it lusts to be contained, trapped inside detention centers such as marriage or counseling or mortgage that command ardent adoration of a single denominator, binding lovers to vows never to be broken, disciplining them when they dare step outside the most viable consumer unit that marriage proposes.
The problem with Carla, strapped with ornate cotton belts to her chair, watching out the window while an Angel watches her, is that she went raw, and while being raw is not illegal, it is a moral felony.
The problem with moral felony is that it is subjective.
The problem with going raw, which means going off the Love supplements, is that once Carla set her mind on it, she went so avidly at cleansing that she drank water until her vision turned fuzzy and her limbs weak. She even woke up at night to drink water which she imagined traveling through her like a disinfectant, corroding those dregs the Love supplements deposited on every cell of her body. Layer upon layer and grain by grain, in time—because water had nothing to do with it, it was only in Carla’s mind that she thought water dissolves and burns—she discharged her Loving past, anticipating with unease the moment she would arrive at the clean foundation of a love unsupported by chemical aids, one legitimate in return, true, proper, perfect, one that will spring from inside the real Carla and not from the chemicals programming her soul.
The problem with Love is that once without the props of the supplements it did not catch up with the new person Carla had become. That Husband, forty-three, heading the development department of a large parts manufacturer, a bit too fit and a bit too tanned, a bit too energetic and a bit too combative and a bit too ambitious, a bit too organized in his Love for her, a bit too disciplined in adoration, did not water the seeds of passion in the new Carla, and she saw that there wasn’t really much of that grand, devastating love in her marriage unit, the one dutifully recorded in photo albums of a life that went through the motions, but certainly not through the happiness of adoration. So she thought that maybe there wasn’t much of that grand, devastating love in most of the units, that they run, just like hers, on Love supplements, depend on it like cars on fuel and that once cut, the fuel that is, Love fades into an ugly manifestation that more resembles organized enmity than tenderness, resembles a cage that nurtures the main desire to evade it.
The problem with Husband, Carla says, is that off-the-shelf Love is what he offers, and performance sex is what he practices. Flower arrangements for each anniversary. Positions, timer, techniques: the prize, the orgasm. Chasing happiness and sacrificing it at every step taking him there, she says. Dos and don’ts lifted from poorly written articles in poorly edited magazines. Averages, statistics.
The problem with sex, Carla says to a non-participating Angel whose retina is transmitting the session to an evaluation committee measuring one’s capacity to express Love, is that it is encouraged only within the boundaries of the consumer unit of marriage. The unit certain to buy a TV and a fridge and a better car every couple of years. Produce the most demanding consumer entity ever invented, children. The problem with sex, Carla says to an Angel, who nods in apparent agreement, is that sex is regulated toward the boring, the missionary marriage sort that keeps the economy going.
The problem with the marriage unit, Carla says, is that the Love supplements are not enough fuel to keep it going. Armies of counselors relentlessly patch it up, prop it, convince the unit it is whole, functional, happiest it has ever been because the unit fucking earns and fucking spends and the unit fucking don’t fuck that much and need all these things to anchor them, to surround themselves with, and condone the relationship, now don’t they?
The problem with Carla, the Angel knows, is that Husband, after she declared herself raw, she fucked and fucked and fucked again until, exhausted, he tapped, defeated. Carla did not for a moment wish to defeat him, she says. His defeat was her defeat, for Husband, depleted and hurt by the obliteration of his top sexual prowess, called for the dissolution of their unit and the reconstruction of the consumer unit each with somebody else, which Carla refused on the grounds of her striving to escape the unit altogether.
The problem with loss, Carla says, is that it is lacking entirely as concept in our social construct. The problem with loss, the Angel suspects, is that Husband didn’t experience it. Instead, plagued with boundless Love, as he liked to boast, he collapsed straight into a new viable marriage unit with a female he proclaimed to Love endlessly, just as he proclaimed, until two weeks before, he Loved Carla. The problem with loss, Carla concludes, is that when we substitute love with Love, we supply ourselves with very little to lose, and thus we deem loss to be nonexistent. She searches for a sign in the Angel’s eyes, a flicker of understanding, of doubt, of inquisitive distraction, but the Angel smiles back at her with affection. The problem with loss, Carla decides in defeat, is that it converts admirably. Produced, packaged and sold, its antidote, fortune, is best-selling product. So go tell those bitches, Carla says to the evaluation committee through the Angel’s retina, to get on top of someone for a while. You need loss, she says. It pays for your fucking wage.
The problem with Carla is that, after seven weeks in Paradise Healing Center, she still doesn’t Love, she shows no sign of recovery, she is not improving against all the supplements pumped into her, instead her despondency aggravates as if she has developed some sort of adverse effect, as if her soul, cleansed, has inoculated itself against aggression and fights ever-winning fights for she is counting despondency as victory.
The problem with the sentence from the evaluation committee is that it reads guilty, although it is not a sentence as such, there is no legal sentence against moral felony, there is a moral sentence which is even worse, Carla believes, and the verdict says something else entirely, there is no punishment as one would expect to come from a condemnation, but Loving advice and there is no guilty as such, there is a diagnosis: Necessitates strong doses of Love.
The problem with the Angel Guardians’ Emergency Rescue Service is that they examine a little too vigorously the delicate territory of Carla’s underarms, extracting her from the chair she was strapped to until a minute ago and maneuvering her through the corridors that lead to the exit, smiling all the time and giving Carla looks of adoration. Carla screams until the breath leaves her body and then she screams some more. How can it be for my own good, she shouts, now dangerously close to the heavenly decorated wagon, her feet entangled in desperate counterproductive moves since each step she tries to take backwards pushes her forward in perfect harmony with the thrust the Angels apply to her body, for they like to be called Angels, plainly Angels, How can it be for my own good, you fuckers, if it is against my will? she screams, her last moments of clarity stripped away from her with each step pulling her closer to the van’s open back doors.
Anca Fodor’s fiction has appeared in Water-Stone Review. She has been a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. Born in Romania, she now lives in Germany with her husband and daughter.
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