The Open-Ended Man
by Eitan Benzion, October 10th 2022
The open-ended man is in the streets, walking like the vibrato of consciousness, the violin string tremble of all the people. There is sunlight, starlight and heartlight coursing through his veins, seeping out through his pores, drenching him in the yellow lacquer of happy delusion. Sometimes he feels like singing, skipping. Sometimes he does. He is so beloved, and very compliant too, the open-ended man.
At first, he had been somewhat resistant to the treatment. It was not the novelty of the experimental pysico-hypnosis that he had found repugnant, but the method itself, so crass and even embarrassing. That was one thing that the man, in his former life, could never stand for: he would not permit himself to suffer the humiliation of exposure. But the man was at great risk of losing all of his personal relationships, some of which he truly valued, and the amalgam of different person’s ultimatums had really left him without a choice. It was either face the Lethe Machine or perish, and he supposed that he had better not perish.
With what a grimace, with what gritted teeth, he had crossed the threshold into the operating room. He had requested that the visiting gaggle of pre-med students pass over him and go, but the surgeon assured the man that, within just a few minute’s time, the presence of anyone would no longer bother him. He didn’t believe the surgeon but, looking back and into the hopeful, desperate eyes of his wife, his children (boy and a girl), his mammam and his boss from work, his number one bartender, his gardener, his accountant and his dog and his cat, all of whom were dutifully assembled in smock and hairnet and latex accoutrements, watching and lending their silent moral support, the man determined that he would just go along with the plan.
Naturally, he was incapable of looking at the throng of residents and attendees, was far too self-conscious of their oogling ogle attention for that, but there was no helping the fact that the man would have to hear the professor-doctor’s expository observations:
“Nascent sclerosis. Note the precise angle of the back and the tightness of the shoulders, see how the shoulders bunch up? That’s a telltale sign of the condition, one we look for, try to catch early. Here it’s quite advanced. This is a posture that’s been permitted to persist for much too long. But, keep in mind, it’s not the posture that needs fixing, that’s merely symptomatic. Of course one benefit of the Lethe procedure is the cosmetic aspect, but no, the real malady is formed deeper than the flesh. Kreutzmann’s always presents as a sum total of different symptomatic parts. We never, ever, make a diagnosis unless a minimum of five of those symptoms present constantly, enduringly, and reinforcingly— that is to say, they must worsen one another. What else might we notice in this present case— oh, and do note also the initial stage of the procedure, the undressing of the patient and the complete application of plasmic elastic to his body, all things that we’ve covered extensively in our lectures— but what else? We might notice the locking of the jaw, the wringing of the hands. Shallow breathing, which is key, and which must always co-present with inverse diaphragmatic movement— that is, that the stomach expands as the patient exhales, and contracts during inhalation. Dilation of the pupils. Inability to make eye contact. The habitual grabbing of the pectoralis major, that’s right, and other self-soothing gestures, besides. And pay attention: though the mechanisms of Doctor Lethe’s machine will not be on this semester’s exam, it doesn’t hurt to get acquainted. There are two dozen manacles, and these are fastened quickly, tightly, as will be necessary for the ligament rearrangement in the latter stage of the procedure. You’ll also note the comparative thinness of those ligatures around the patient’s torso and head, as it is precisely in the abdomen and front portions of the brain that the greatest quantity of Doctor Lethe’s substance must needs be applied. Those areas will be inundated with quantities of the substance that are much too great for anyone un-afflicted with the condition to bear. For this patient, however, it will be— more than safe— positively curative. See his inability to shed tears, even while under great duress? That, too, is typical. The spasmodic clenching and unclenching of the hands is also usual, nothing to worry about, as well as the guttural ejaculation of certain animal-type sounds, which I’m sure by now you’ve noticed. This, really, is an ideal candidate. A specimen, I have to say. OK. Goggles on, folks.”
Terminal illness and steady decline, dryness of spirit, the ossified fossilization of every nervous part over slow, tumorous years. These things were not preferable to the breakthrough treatment, and yet that fate was often elected by the afflicted, so dire were the rigors of the Lethe Machine. More than any mere bodily adjustment, it was the interior work that made it hurt. The literature concurred: success was dependent on whether or not the patient could be oriented outwards, whether the sway of external connections could overbear upon the patient’s inward self. According to most journals, the odds of this were upwards of 80%— 80% chance of permanent, irreversible penetration of every cell and cortex and marrow rich inch of bone.
Presently, the professor-doctor is directing his class’s attention to the way in which a complex mechanism is applying tactically precise pressure to the man’s upper-half via a series of interlocking pushers and gears, rolling and shoring up the top vertebrae of his spine into a more fitting arrangement. Especial attention is being paid to the frontmost middle portion of his brain, roundabout where the skull meets the separation of his two sockets. The medical community hasn’t yet consented to say why it’s that small segment of matter that seems to matter most, but the bleeding edge journals all agree that it’s right precisely smack dab there that Kreutzmann’s patients are most afflicted— that that’s the heart of the disease. Post-procedure X-rays show that that spot is usually left shriveled, puny and raw. Any sensitivity to touch is managed by a careful regimen of bandages and protective helmets; besides that sole physical degradation, no concomitant side effects are to be anticipated.
The promise is that of a spiritual cure, quasi-religious, a little pretentious but still very real. Just five or ten minutes of endurance is all it takes, then no more worried looks from the kids, no more incessant questions about why daddy takes so many naps or where the fucking checkbook went or will you remember to get the dog groomed or pick the kid up or to just make conversation at dinner with friends. Everything’s fixable, everything can be remedied. Say so long! to furtive looks exchanged between coworkers and their raised silent eyebrows asking what’s his problem and why? A little breaking of the anterior claviers and the injection of 20cc’s of liquid libido on top of 50 volts of psychical zoom juice, some vitamin D and a red light beam, ten minutes spent uninterrupted in the pore pouring substance that’s sustenance, surfeit, and self-unconsciousness all at once. To rearrange the body and make it strong, to turn sunk and beady eyes into big, striking things, dagger sharp pupils that see right through you, projecting swollen confidence, the bloat of good health. He’s made up in an instant, compelled to drink deep from the effecting well of hale vigor. His cowardice should be turned into a kind of thought-form musculature, and the living thing in him that makes him shy needs to be eradicated, beamed by medical light into salubrious oblivion. So, “Irradiate me, Doc!” becomes the watchword, consent given to an atomic bomb’s worth of gamma beams pointed at a point.
When the man steps down from the Lethe machine he’s open-ended. Everything about him is changed. He shakes hands with the doctor, slaps his wife on the ass and, lifting his daughter up and balancing her on his shoulders, winks to the nurse and nods to the operating technicians. He steps out the door and into the fresh air of life, not bothering to reflect on how much this scene resembles that same moment as dramatized in the adverts.
The next few months go easy for him. The next few years go even better. Everyone loves him. His wife recommends the “miracle treatment” to several of her close friends, and the man even lends his testimonial to the Lethe Foundation and is honored to receive an invitation to speak at one of their conferences. He protests that he doesn’t have much to say, and that he shouldn’t take the time out of life for such a thing when, surely, there’s more qualified people. There’s too much goodness, too much succulence to sup from the everyday for him to make a big to-do in a hotel ballroom at a lectern under lights, showing before and after pictures and giving voice to a transformed sentiment. But at last he relents, and he catches an economy flight to Vegas where he’s been convinced to do just that.
It’s the little things, he explains, gesturing before a crowd of one thousand physicians and patients just like him. Hard to articulate, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t know them when he sees them, feel them when he feels them. They add up, they come easily. Like a new nature had been growing verdant and lush below the hard soil of his old life and needed only the gentlest of tilling to suddenly bloom in thickets and rose bushes. Everyone applauds, and he is beaming quiet rectitude.
He mingles. He’s nodding and smiling and being very debonaire. He makes the rounds, chats with some doctors, gives his number out freely to anyone who inquires about the possibility of a later consultation for this or that paper, and at last finds himself standing with three or four other patients whose good experiences with the Lethe machine unites them. They compare notes, nod knowingly, and congratulate each other on their wonderful advancements.
The man is very pleased. It’s a calm pleasure, the kind he hardly notices, but it is infectious and permeates his whole demeanor. He takes little stock in it. In point of fact, he admits to having noticed no change in himself and that, if anything, it’s more that the entire world had changed around him. True enough, you never would’ve used to catch him dancing in the street, but that just feels so natural, he avows.
The only moments of reflection that he allows himself are brief, periodic but infrequent enough to be easily dismissed. They come to him in in-betweens, usually early morning or at night, or now, standing in the hotel ballroom and drinking a peach drink of mild alcohol content. The thought of it never reaches its fullest fruition, remains half-matured and fast forgotten somewhere in his head— fizzling out, in fact, right around that soft part he’s careful never to touch too brusquely, lest it squish and maybe cave.
This partial reflection, which never quite reminds the man of the certain thinky feeling that he’s lost but never has noticed is gone, is simple enough. It has to do with the cessation of its own mental track. It’s that his reflections, like the dirtied surface of a mirror, seem sometimes scummied, dulled, obscure. What was it? What was it that he’s gotten? Or was it… lost?
Soon enough that’s gone. The open-ended man is basking in another moment altogether. There are platters of entrées being served across the hall, and he thinks he overheard something about banana nut muffins, which are his favorite.