Thursday, January 18, 2007

"The Conductor," Part One

By Jennifer Wilson

Andrew fell in love with electricity. His first kiss was white and sweet and it numbed his whole body and fired his imagination. He was aware even then, that his lover would have devoured him entirely if his mother hadn't screamed and yanked his lips off of the wall socket.

Shaking and thanking Jesus that her baby was still alive, she placed his small body on the sofa and covered him up to his chin with a crocheted blanket. Her perfume mingled with the memory of that kiss, with the scratchy feel of the couch and the singed taste that filled his mouth. These flavors birthed an aroma that would elude exact replication and haunt him always with the flickering desire to inhale it once again.

For his parents, the experience quickly blended into the weave of their family's fabric. "The time Andrew stuck his tongue in the socket" was recounted to audiences at parties and gatherings until they had washed it clean of their fear. It was the same thing they had done after his sister fell out of the oak tree.

"Remember the time Lilly tried to climb up to the moon?'" they would say, chuckling.

But to him, in his secret moments alone, it remained the turning point of his young life. To him, that kiss was the foundation upon which all of his future experiences would build. He felt assured of this, day after day, just as he felt the rhythm of his beating heart on his fingertips.

His yearning pressed him to learn everything that he could. As a lover memorizes the habits of his beloved, he memorized the theories of electronics, studied wiring, and memorized the patterns of electric current.

He looked at the toaster and the television set with new eyes, tracing their lines into sockets and imagining the surging energy that filled them upon request. He felt pricks of jealousy at the intimacy with which they could mingle.

The curiosity of his desire led him to the local library. The more he read the more questions he asked and this soon brought him to the attention of his teachers. He received top grades in school and his parents were predictably proud. His grandmother even put a bumper sticker on her 1978 Chrystler, so that everyone would know about her honor student grandson.

They all remembered the incident with the wall socket as one point of peril in the raising of a regular healthy young boy. None of them suspected the significance one event had had in the life of their only son. Positive and negative current formed for him the structure of a religion. He listened for her testament everywhere. As his own blood rang in his ears, electricity hummed overhead and glowed in front of him on screens and bulbs,through switches and lines. He wanted to stretch the copper of currency into wire and pay her homage. He thought about his body, filled with water, andof how that water could conduct her very touch.

She was constantly around him, and that knowledge urged his life forward with a momentous might. As he grew up, enduring the confusion of adolescence, he carefully cloakedhis lust from the scrutiny of his peers. He began to see with more democratic eyes; transforming the features of his love into the likenesses of other's. He poured her out into smaller vessels, into forms more acceptable to love. With age he began to rely upon the accolades of his academic achievements to propel him, rather than the passionate fantasies of his mind. And as she receded into the context of his childhood, he lost the exactitude of remembrance, and time turned his heart to more relevant subjects in the constant service of his survival.

He competed for scholarships in math and science, while keeping up with the fads and fashions of his years. And as those years passed, he was required to think much more about the details of his life, than of its meaning. He remained fascinated with the currents of positives and negatives, but felt himself to be far evolved from the boy who would tongue the socket just to feel the kiss of energy that lay beneath. His original vice was carefully dressed in worldly achievements, expectations and possibilities.

He was admitted to a highly acclaimed university where he continued with his studies. Computers were the future, and as he mastered their language he experienced the pleasure of an unexpected homecoming. He focused on his work, excluding intimate relationships with individuals in exchange for challenging new hours of research and he achieved much material success.

As his adult career blossomed he was kept increasingly busy with projects and their management, spending less and less time in his own lab. He worked tirelessly and was well respected but as success determined his position, hefound himself alone and at a standstill. He had become a teacher among students and that left him little time for personal inquiry or research. He began to lose the sense of excitement that had fueled his former work.

The achievements that he had been heralded for became more and more a part of his past, a thing only to be remembered and nodded to from his pedantic perch.He was perplexed by this dilemma but kept up appearances, and soothed his frustrations with a thinning balm of wealth and praise. He mimicked the habits of those who surrounded him, those who professed to be happy with their lives. And as he drifted through years in this manner, he averted his eyes from the dark walls of the narrowing channel before him and kept his back to the gnawing doubts that clustered around his mind.

One morning, he woke up feeling unusually agitated. He wasn't in the habit of remembering his dreams, and so retained only a sense of what hadtranspired during the night. He was disturbed by a recollection that in the dream he had been deliriously happy, so now awake he felt the disaster of having made a terrible mistake. The more alert he became, the more depressed he felt. He showered and let the water wrap his skin like a warm blanket, yet even there he could not shake the despair that became almost overwhelming. Walking to work that day, he decided to take a longer route,through the park.

Stopping to sit on a bench and finish his coffee, he watched joggers pass byand birds gather together to forage for pastry crumbs at his feet. All ofthe details of these scenes blurred against his mood. A woman sat down next to him and began to sketch in a large black notebook. Her hair glinted in the sunlight as it fell around her face and the vision drew him from his reverie, just enough. He stole several glances at her and began to feel more himself. He spoke to her, wanting more of the feeling of solace. As they exchanged words, their bodies angled unconsciously toward each other. She agreed to have dinner with him, and one year later they were married.


Jennifer Wilson as worked for the BBC, Seal Press, and several independent record labels. She has also made a living as a landscaper, a legal assistant, a janitor, a waitress, and a traveling festival vendor. She is the author of one novel, "Witch," an account of the life story of the first woman executed for witchcraft in Salem in 1692. More of her work is available on her website:

No comments: